For Immediate Release, September 23, 2011
Deirdre McDonnell, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 279-5471
Angela Howe, Surfrider, (949) 492-8170
Shawna Larson, Pacific Environment, (907) 841-5163
Lawsuit Launched to Force EPA to Study Effects of Oil Dispersants on Endangered Wildlife
PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider and Pacific Environment today filed an official notice of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of toxic oil dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species or their habitats. The EPA must preapprove 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 groups urged the agency to immediately study the effects of dispersants on endangered and threatened species in all U.S. waters, including polar bears and walrus in the Arctic; sea turtles, endangered whales, piping plovers and corals in the Gulf of Mexico; and salmon, sea birds, and sea turtles in the Pacific.
“The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a wake-up call on the inadequacy of oil-spill response technology being used now,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The next spill could happen anywhere. When it does, the government needs to ensure that these dispersants don’t do more harm than good to wildlife and endangered species.”
More than 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants were dumped into the sea as part of the response to last year’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The chemical dispersants on the nationwide list can be used in oil-spill response in any U.S. waters, be they Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic.
“The Arctic Ocean is one of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for many endangered and threatened species. Dispersants would not only affect these animals, but the indigenous peoples who have subsisted on marine resources for centuries,” said Shawna Larson, Alaska program director for Pacific Environment. “The EPA needs to proceed with precautionary measures in mind in order to prevent future harm to the health of the environment and people.”
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.
The Center, Pacific Environment and Surfrider intend 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.
Surfrider Foundation is jointly bringing this suit in an effort to protect the invaluable coastal environment from harms that are currently being experienced in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon spill, which could potentially be exacerbated by the use of the Corexit 9500 and 9527 dispersants.
“The fact is that there are still many unanswered questions about the chemicals we are using in the United States in response to an oil spill,” said Surfrider Managing Attorney Angela Howe. “We need to be certain of the impacts of dispersants in our oceans so that we can act accordingly to fully protect our coastal environment and the people who use it.”
“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.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 60,000 members and 100 chapters worldwide. For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, visit www.surfrider.org.
Pacific Environment is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies. For nearly two decades, we have partnered with local communities around the Pacific Rim to protect and preserve the ecological treasures of this vital region. Visit www.pacificenvironment.org to learn more about our work.