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For Immediate Release, April 18, 2011

Contact: Deirdre McDonnell, (971) 255-0966

Lawsuit Launched to Force EPA to Study Oil-dispersant Impacts on Endangered Wildlife

One Year After Massive Use of Chemical Dispersants on BP Spill, Impacts Remain Unknown

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of toxic dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species or their habitats. The EPA must pre-approve the use of chemical dispersants in the event of an oil spill, but has not taken steps to ensure that the use of these chemicals will not jeopardize endangered wildlife. The Center’s notice requests that the agency immediately study the effects of dispersants on endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles, endangered whales, piping plovers and corals.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a wake-up call about the inadequacy of current oil-spill response technology,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Before the next spill happens, the government needs to ensure that these dispersants don’t do more harm than good to threatened and endangered species.”

Unable to stem the oil flow from the busted well, more than 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants were dumped into the Gulf after the BP spill began in April 2010.

Dispersants are chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than it would if left untreated. However, dispersants and dispersed oil can also allow toxins to accumulate in the marine food web. The effects of using large quantities of dispersants and injecting them into very deep water, as BP did in the Gulf of Mexico, have never been studied; scientists believe it may be linked to the spread of underwater plumes of oil. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has conceded that the long-term effects of dispersants on aquatic life are unknown.

Now, one year after the Gulf spill began, the same dispersants remain approved for oil-spill response, and we know little more than we did then about their effect on wildlife. The Center intends to file a lawsuit unless the EPA complies with the Endangered Species Act, which requires that it examine the impacts of these toxins on endangered wildlife and consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“From Santa Barbara to Exxon Valdez to the Deepwater Horizon, we’ve seen the destruction that oil spills leave in their wake,” said McDonnell. “We shouldn’t add insult to injury by using dispersants that could have long-term effects on species already fighting for survival.”

Studies have found that oil broken apart by the dispersant Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish eggs, larvae and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food. Formulations of the dispersants being used by BP, Corexit 9500 and 9527, have been banned in the United Kingdom due to concerns over their impacts on the marine environment.

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