For Immediate Release
Riki Ott, Founder/Director, ALERT, a project of Earth Island Institute
Lesley Pacey, Founder/Director, Eastern Shore Community Health Partners,
a Mobile Bay, Alabama, initiative to research chronic disease clusters
Berkeley, CA (January 18, 2022) — This week, a group of environmental-justice advocates and allies are calling on President Biden to intervene and order the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its premature rule on dispersant use before it goes into effect on January 24, 2022.
In its December 22, 2021, letter to the President, the group claims it has done everything it can “to hold the EPA accountable to the spirit and intent of the laws that are designed to protect the waters of the U.S. and our health and wellbeing.” But that “a higher hand is now needed to compel the EPA to do the right thing.”
At issue is the EPA’s new rule on monitoring use of dispersants in “atypical situations” during oil spill response — specifically the use of large quantities over long duration through aerial spraying and deep-sea injection, as was done during the 2010 British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon disaster response in the Gulf of Mexico. (86 FR 40234)
Dr. Riki Ott, director of ALERT, lead author of the letter, explains, “The oil industry and federal government want to legalize what was done during the 2010 BP oil disaster response. Atypical dispersant use is not authorized under the current national emergency response plan that is nearly 30 years old. This rule is premature as it is part of a whole that has not been authorized yet — and it is willfully ignorant because it ignores the current science.” (80 FR 3379)
The EPA published its new rule on dispersant use a few days before a ninth circuit federal district court ruled in August 2021 that the EPA has a mandatory duty to update the nation’s oil spill response plan when there is new information that shows the current standards are insufficient to safely mitigate harm to people and wildlife from an oil spill. This new interpretation of the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to update and maintain the national response plan based on current science.
Emerging science on the consequences of dispersant use during the 2010 BP disaster — unprecedented in quantity, duration, and scope — has found that oil spills cause more harm to people and wildlife when treated with Corexit dispersants. In the wake of the BP disaster, unprecedented long-term suffering, debilitating illnesses, increases in rare and unusual cancers, and early deaths of children and adults have plagued oiled Gulf coast communities. A synopsis of this science is included in the letter to the President.
Kindra Arnesen, a mother and commercial fisherwoman in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, plans to call the White House. “The years since the BP oil spill have been a freaking nightmare. My entire family has had health problems. The oily mist from months of dispersant use took a huge toll on my entire community,” said Arnesen. “The rates of cancer and other illnesses skyrocketed during the decade after disaster. I went to 22 funerals in 18 months. Then I stopped counting.”
Lesley Pacey, a mother with a child who survived cancer, started collecting National Cancer Institute statistics in the Eastern Shore communities of Baldwin County, Alabama, before the 2010 BP disaster. A decade after the oil spill, new clusters of rare and childhood cancers now dot her maps. Baldwin County ranks in the top 0.018 percent in the nation of childhood and adult leukemia, a cancer associated with oil-chemical exposures. “I plan to call the White House,” she said.
Ott said, “It is willful negligence on the part of the EPA to issue this rule now. The EPA is intentionally disregarding the health and safety of response workers and the public during oil disasters. Science shows that dispersants cannot be used safely in huge quantities over months and months at or under the sea surface. A federal judge agreed with us. It is time for the law to catch up with the science and court ruling.”
The group is asking President Biden to order the EPA to withdraw its new dispersant use rule before the rule goes into effect on January 24. The group is also asking the president to order the EPA to issue one comprehensive rule on use and monitoring, based on current science, on or before the court-ordered deadline of May 31, 2023.