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Scientists: Dispersants' "Failure of Chemicals Policy"

June 14, 2010

BOSTON - More than a million gallons of chemical dispersants have been sprayed into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil spill began, but some of the key ingredients were kept secret until just last week. They were finally revealed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after a public outcry over health problems experienced by clean-up workers. One of the ingredients used in the early stages of clean-up is designated a chronic and acute health hazard, and was linked to the health problems of people working to clean up after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

According to Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, putting Gulf workers at risk is an example of a failed federal chemicals policy.

"The current law does not mandate that EPA assess the actual safety of dispersants or their ingredients."

A coalition of 250 environmental and public health organizations is calling for an overhaul of the 30-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Denison says the new law would encourage innovation and development of safer, more effective dispersants. The bill, known as the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 3209), is pending in the Senate. A vote is expected this summer.

Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that before the full ingredient list for the dispersant formula (Corexit 9527) was released, one of the only sources for safety information was a data sheet that said very little about actual safety risks, except . . .

"That it causes mutation in, quote - microorganism, not otherwise specified - unquote. You know, what is someone supposed to do with that information?"

The company that makes the dispersant said it preferred to keep the ingredients secret because the formula is proprietary.

The ingredient that poses an acute health risk is 2-butoxy ethanol in Corexit 9527. The EPA's list of ingredients is online at www.epa.gov

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA