Gilli: Reveal the Chemicals in the Gulf (Updated)

Gilli: Reveal the Chemicals in the Gulf (Updated) »

Don’t let oil spill workers suffer the fate of ailing 9/11 responders, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is urging the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some 20,000 civilians and thousands of National Guard members have been pressed into service for the Gulf of Mexico cleanup, where chemical oil dispersants are being used in never-before-seen quantities.

Officials insist the chemical, Corexit, is safe, but Gillibrand sees parallels between the Gulf cleaners and the thousands of Sept. 11 responders who rushed into the unprecedented toxic mess at Ground Zero, and suffered for it.

In a letter to EPA boss Lisa Jackson, Gillibrand argues that the feds can help prevent that from happening in the Gulf by revealing the secret concoction of chemicals in Corexit so workers know how to protect themselves.

The company has revealed the ingredients to the feds, but under laws that guard confidential business information, federal officials are barred from passing the information to the public.

But Gilibrand argues can “exercise imminent harm authority” to release the data.

“In my home state of New York, we are acutely aware of the long-term health effects of exposure to harmful and toxic substances in the aftermath of a crisis.,” Gillibrand writes to Jackson. “Thousands of first responders, construction workers, and community members are suffering and some have died from contact with hazardous substances that were released into the area around Ground Zero in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks.”

There have been a handful of complaints in the Gulf related to the chemicals there, but officials from BP and the makers of Corexit, Nalco, have argued there is no evidence the complaints are actually linked to the chemicals.

“We have not seen any evidence of dispersant-related health effects and government responders have not stated that they have found such a link either,” Dr. Manian Ramesh, the chief technology officer for Nalco, said yesterday.

Federal health officials who have convened three meetings on the use of dispersants — some 1 million gallons of which have been dumped into the spill — admit they do not know what such heavy use will do to the environment or people.

The EPA has required BP to dramatically cut its use over concerns about toxicity.

Nalco said in a recent statement that its dispersant “is a simple blend of six well-established, safe ingredients that biodegrade, do not bioaccumulate and are commonly found in popular household products.”

The company also noted that it is only being used well away from land, and that the people using it are trained and protected.

While longterm effects may be unknown, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said yesterday dispersants have been very effective, and EPA monitors have found no signs of harm to the environment.

“So far, they (the EPA) have found no impacts on the wildlife related to the toxicity of the dispersants, but they continue to do that and we will continue to work very, very closely with EPA on this,” Allen said.

Still, after 9/11 workers were assured they were safe, Gillibrand argues better safe than sorry.

“In the case of the BP oil disaster, public disclosure of this chemical information would ensure these kinds of illnesses do not happen again to the workers and community members that are being exposed right now,” she writes in her letter.

Update: The EPA says:

EPA agrees that the safety of responders and Gulf Coast residents is of the utmost importance, which is why those concerns have been foremost in our efforts to respond to the BP oil spill. Within days of the spill, EPA developed and implemented a comprehensive air and water monitoring program in the region. Among other things, EPA has also specifically measured the impact of controlled burning of oil and dispersant use on air quality in the Gulf. EPA posts all of this information online at http://www.epa.gov/bpspill and we are in communication with local authorities to immediately notify the public if the data shows there are health risks.

In addition, EPA has challenged BP and several of the dispersant manufacturers to make more information public and, as a result, more data on the use and components of dispersant has been made public. In response to our strong urging, Nalco has released the constituents of their product, Corexit, and we encourage other companies to do the same so Americans can get a full picture of the potential environmental and health impacts of these dispersants.

The whole letter is after the jump.

June 4, 2010

The Honorable Lisa Jackson Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson,

I am writing today to urge you to exercise imminent harm authority as Administrator in disclosing the confidential information related to the dispersants currently being used in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the British Petroleum (BP) oil disaster. President Obama has called the BP oil spill “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history,” and the public is seeking greater transparency in addressing this catastrophe. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made some information about the dispersants available to the public, BP and Nalco, the manufacturer of COREXIT dispersants, have maintained secrecy surrounding these chemicals, and their health effects, prohibiting public access to critical safety information.

The unprecedented amount of these chemicals being used to fight the oil has turned the Gulf Coast into an experiment for the short and long-term effects of their massive use. In order to understand the impacts of their application, and protect the coast from more devastating damage, EPA must make public this essential information concerning toxicity, efficacy, and human health and ecological risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that long-term human exposure to dispersants can cause central nervous system problems, or do damage to blood, kidneys or livers. Reports from Gulf Coast emergency rooms, where response workers are being treated, have noted respiratory problems, as well as headaches and nausea.

On May 24th, you expressed concern over the environmental unknowns of dispersants, which include the long-term effects on aquatic life. The use of these dispersants has raised questions about infiltration into the food chain as phytoplankton potentially ingests these chemical compounds.

Under Section 14(a)(3) of the Toxic Substance Control Act, the Administrator has the authority to disclose data if determined, “necessary to protect health or the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the
environment.” Given the very serious health and environmental concerns associated with exposure to these chemicals, I believe it is essential that this information be made public without delay.

In my home state of New York, we are acutely aware of the long-term health effects of exposure to harmful and toxic substances in the aftermath of a crisis. Thousands of first responders, construction workers, and community members are suffering and some have died from contact with hazardous substances that were released into the area around Ground Zero in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks. In the case of the BP oil disaster, public disclosure of this chemical information would ensure these kinds of illnesses do not happen again to the workers and community members that are being exposed right now.

As we continue to witness the devastation that the Gulf Coast is facing, it is important that the process and efforts are transparent. Considering the long-term effects of this disaster on wildlife and coastal communities, it is vital that this information be made available to understand the full extent of this disaster and the clean-up efforts.

I thank you for your immediate attention to this request, and ask that you contact me or my staff if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

Kirsten E. Gillibrand United States Senator

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: