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Gulf oil spill: Did Coast Guard allow excessive toxic dispersants?

Documents released by a congressional committee Saturday show that the U.S. Coast Guard appeared to flout a May 25 Obama administration directive that sought to limit the use of chemical dispersants on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to “rare cases.”

“BP carpet-bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee. "After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the gulf in this manner."

Dispersants were authorized by federal officials despite their toxicity because the ecological damage from oil was deemed to be worse.  But scientists say that the chemicals, which break up the oil into tiny droplets, have contributed to large plumes of hydrocarbons below the ocean's surface. And it is unclear whether the danger to marine organisms may be higher from toxic dispersants or from oil.

Markey, who has been investigating massive use of toxic chemicals to disperse oil from the BP spill for several months, released the Coast Guard documents along with a stern nine-page letter to retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, the national incident commander. The letter described, based on the documents, a chaotic and indiscriminate decision-making process in allowing BP daily exemptions from the May 25 directive.

The documents show that from May 26 to mid-July, when the runaway oil well was plugged, more than 74 exemption requests from BP to spray surface dispersants were granted by the Coast Guard, usually within the same day.  On five occasions BP requested advance approval to apply 6,000 gallons of dispersant each day to the ocean surface for an entire week, amounting to 35 days of pre-approved continuous use. Every request was approved.

The Environmental Protection Agency, although a party to the original directive, was virtually excluded from the daily decisions on chemical dispersants until June 22, almost a month after the directive, according to the documents. In early June, an EPA official complained that “the approval process appears to be somewhat pro forma, and not as rigorous as EPA desires,” according to one memorandum.

The documents also reveal contradictions in accounts of how much chemical dispersant was being used. According to, the government’s official website, 1.8 million gallons of dispersants have been sprayed on the surface of the gulf and beneath the water since the April 20 rig explosion. ”The validity of those numbers are now in question,” Markey said, citing “huge discrepancies” that raise questions as to whether the Coast Guard “exercised appropriate oversight.”

The EPA calculates that the total use of dispersants underwater and on the surface declined about 72% from its peak after the May 26 order. But it is unclear whether most of the reduction came from underwater dispersants, as opposed to the surface dispersants permitted by the exemptions.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in an e-mail, "The use of dispersant is always a difficult decision, with environmental trade-offs that must be taken seriously into consideration. As a result, its use in response to the BP spill was subject to numerous strict conditions once it quickly became apparent that BP wanted to use it in unprecedented quantities and in novel ways.

"Specifically, EPA approved subsea dispersant use only after requiring multiple tests to confirm its use would be effective 5,000 feet below the surface and only after BP was directed to put in place a comprehensive monitoring program that ensured close observation of the ecological impact.

"Soon after, following two days of skyrocketing dispersant usage by BP, which peaked at 70,000 gallons on May 24, mainly on the surface of the water, Administrator Lisa Jackson worked with then-Federal On-Scene Coordinator Rear Admiral Mary Landry to put in place a directive making dispersant use a last resort and capping its use both on the surface and sub sea.

"Administrator Jackson and Rear Admiral Landry also ordered BP to implement a 75 percent overall reduction of dispersant use from that peak usage."

The Coast Guard was authorized to grant waivers to increase dispersants, and "initally EPA was not involved in day-to-day decisions about granting such waivers, and EPA staff were notified after waivers were granted," he acknowledged.


While EPA may not have concurred with every individual waiver granted by the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, the Agency believes dispersant use has been an essential tool in mitigating this spill’s impact, preventing millions of gallons of oil from doing even more damage to sensitive marshes, wetlands and beaches and the economy of the Gulf coast," Gilfillan wrote.

Responding to the Markey investigation, BP spokesman Steve Rinehart wrote in an e-mail, “We were in regular communication with EPA on the topic of dispersant use and we followed the direction of the Unified Command,” the federal agency in charge of spill response. He added that “dispersant use was pre-approved as a response tool, and approved during the response, because it is effective and, on balance, less harmful” than undispersed oil.

Coast Guard spokesman Mike Lutz said Saturday that he was unaware of the Markey documents, but would request official response.

--Margot Roosevelt

Comments () | Archives (28)

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I wonder if BP are going to show us how much oil is sitting on the ocean floor. We are lucky nature is a powerful force. As only nature and time can truly fix this disaster.

all the myopic morons that posted here about no endangerment and everything's fine in the Gulf should be made to eat for a week nothing but fresh caught shrimp oysters and tuna from the areas where the dispensants were concentrated.

Chow down Chumps!!!

The tragedy is the dispersants made it much worse. A spill in the eighties in Brittany, France was restudied to see how the shore and water recovered. Untreated areas recovered completely in 10 years. Areas treated with Corexit are still "dead" after 32 years.

Well, what I got from this post ( clearly shows that there was enough caution and collaboration by both sides, and that no purposeful defilement was ever attempted.

Either way, I am just glad that it's under control now, and whatever the cost, it's still better than having to suffer this disaster even a day longer.

At no time since the President declared the Deepwater Horizon incident a "Spill of National Significance" was anyone at EPA given the power to direct BP to do anything.

The Federal On Scene Coordinator is the last word on every single decision made in conducting the response. EPA may have officials on the response team, but they, like BP and everyone else, take their orders from Allen.

Markey's full of Malarkey.

I was wondering about the chemicals that were being sprayed over the ocean and whether more harm than good was being done. I would have thought it better to leave the oil floating on the surface where it can be soaked up.

We are letting the criminal clean up the crime scene. A growing number of clean-up workers have reported flu like symptoms including headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and loss of concentration to just name a few. Almost all of the Exxon Valdez clean-up crews have either died or are still suffering from the effects of the use of toxic dispersant.

"IF THEY CAN'T SEE doesn't exist!!!" These are likely the words of wisdom from our top political leaders, with BP squeezing their nuts. Therefore, make the visible poison disappear, with more poison to sink it INTO our food chain.

Do you STILL want to go to FL, LA, TX and eat Gulf seafood? Not me, as with oil, seafood is fungible, and can be resold ANYWHERE, where it can be RE-LABELED, and FED TO YOU. Don't forget, that Gulf shrimp middlemen were caught using chemicals to PLUMP the prawns so they appears bigger and more VALUABLE, than they really were.

Obama was supposedly 'in charge' of this operation--but it appears that the Coast Guard is going to be the fall guy.

Everyone knew from the beginning that Corexit 9500 was banned in the UK due to its high toxicity.
There were alternative chemicals that could have been used.

Why not interview the owners of Nalco Inc, the company that makes the highly toxic dispersant? Those owners are: Goldman Sachs, Blackwater and Allied. Wonder how much money is being made from selling millions of gallons of dispersants?

This has been a win/win situation for Goldman Sachs since they also sold $250 million worth of BP shares two weeks before the oil rig exploded--they must have a group of psychics working over there.

The proof will be in the eventual outcome of these toxic dispersants mixed with oil and coming on shore. Imagine the horror of it finding its way into our waterways, and polluting or killing our food supply from the sea. Please visit my website at Author of the book Final Warning

Note how the officer in charge rapidly became a retired consultant - nice move Thad - now you can make some real bucks...

It's like saying there is an overuse of water that may cause long-term water damage after putting out a fire.

oh look another stupid LATimes comment box that is only allowed through if you are in line with the writer.

Hey, out of sight out of mind right?

cmon it's clearly obvious for months now Thad Allen is BP's puppet. He tells us everything they tell him to say. Well's only leaking a few gallons of oil? Okay! Thousands of gallons of EPA disapproved oil dispersant into the ocean? Okay! No more oil in the water and let's pull back the clean up? Okay!

woulda thought an admiral woulda had more backbone. but then you'd have to have initiative and a desire for the truth but its obvious Thad Allen's just coasting by living a don't worry be happy life.

The only real question is whether the chemical used to disperse the oil is more toxic than the oil itself. Sounds to be like more political agenda noise.

We as American citizens should sue the government for letting BP destroy our environment and heres how. Generally, a sovereign government cannot be sued unless it allows itself to be sued. In the United States, Congress has passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allowing the U.S. government to be sued for the tortious negligence of its employees that causes personal injury or property damage.

Prior to bringing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, it is required that a written claim be presented to the offending government agency. After the written claim is presented, six months must pass before a lawsuit may be filed in United States District Court. If the claim is denied in writing by the agency, the claimant must file suit within six months of the date of denial.

Generally, a written claim must be presented within two years of reasonable knowledge of the cause and existence of the injury, even for minors and incompetents. There are numerous other details and restrictions under the FTCA and it is advisable to have an attorney represent you in this potentially complicated area of the law. Other laws that allow claims to be made against the United States government, but do not allow a lawsuit may also apply such as the Military Claims Act (MCA) and Foreign Claims Act (FCA).

A Standard Form 95 (SF95) is used for presenting a claim to the offending agency under the FTCA, MCA, and/or FCA. A fillable SF95 may be found at the following link:

If you looking to get information under the Freedom of Information Act or want to sue the government for violating the ADA or another act, there may be ways around this restriction. Sometimes, that involves being granted the right to sue (ex: equal employment oppotunity cases -- see or even suing specific individuals.

Govt in action. Is there anything that the govt touches that they don't completely screw up? Anything? Oh, I can hardly wait for the wonders of Obamacare.

Jezz ! Nit pick, nit pick,,,,,,

I feel so sad for the political left- they didn't get the disaster they so need to prove their self worth!

I wrote in the Huffington Post a month ago that "100 years from now this will be a minor footnote in history books" and actually received death threats!

Was this bad? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Has BP acted honorably, fixed the leak, paid the bills, and dropped $20 billion in the hands of the Obama administration. Do you think the Great One will pilfer that to the last dime?

Right now boats can't find any oil to clean up and another Massachusetts congressman is livid as a result- I NEED A TRAGEDY!

Of course they sprayed dispersants- it was all over the news!

One out of seven British pensioners used to receive income from BP, and now they don't. If I were you, I'd fill up at Arco this week and begin to sort our our debt to this equation.

More BS from an enviro puppet.

Mr. Markey is upset because the Congress won't be able to 'fix' the problem as quickly as the private sector did. The bacteria will deal with the chemicals, the fish will thrive. See what happens when the government is excluded?

I can't believe that I'm the only one that was outraged at the amount of "dispersant" being sprayed during the leak. Close observation of the leak video feed showed that BP had several nozzles injecting the stuff directly into the flow emitting from the broken well head.

The dispersant isn't some magic potion that "poof" makes oil disappear, it just breaks it up into tiny particles that won't form oil slicks, so the oil falls to the floor of the ocean. Out of sight, out of mind.

Who does that benefit? BP and their puppets in the government. If the oil slick isn't visible on the evening news, then it must all be good, right? If you can't see an oil slick, then it's impossible to quantify it, so it's that much easier for BP to argue how much oil actually spilled, reducing future penalties. Even intelligent news readers like Chris Matthews were bleating about how it looked like all was fine. The oil must have "evaporated", he surmised last week, between reading lines from his TelePromptr.
This guy Thad Allen is the most worthless, sack-less piece of junk I've seen. He allowed the monsters at BP walk all over him. He opened his mouth in press conferences, and the spin written by BP's marketing dept flowed from his mouth like reeking diarrhea. He was referring to oil captured from the well head as "production". PRODUCTION! Oil to be sold, for the continued profit of his masters, BP.

Morons. That dispersant is no less toxic than the oil that it was sprayed on. Now that the oil has settled onto the bottom of the Gulf, it will be impossible to clean up, as opposed to relatively easy to scoop up if it had been allowed to form thick slicks on the surface.
"Gotta protect the shore!!!", as if the only part of the ecosystem is the shore line, where humans live, and can easily see and understand. if the ecosystem a mile below the surface where humans can't see it gets destroyed, is it really destroyed? Fisherman and evening news watchers vote, but marine life doesn't. Bobby Jindal has to take care of the "important" constituent. "Build Berms!!!!!!!"

We're reminded, day after day, of the weakness of the American mind. The ease with which big business and government, enabled by he media, can fool people. The Gulf oil disaster presented volumes of irrefutable evidence.
People lined up behind the media narrative that dispersant is good. Now, after millions of gallons have been sprayed, they're lining up behind the current narrative that dispersant is a bad thing. Hey, how about thinking for yourself and not waiting for the media narrative to catch up? Dispersant was toxic 3 months ago, it didn't just become toxic because Rep. Markey called a press conference.

Where was Congressman Markey and his outrage when the dispersant was being sprayed? Rachael Maddow was all over this, months ago. Had scientists and experts on her show that clearly explained how toxic the stuff was and why it was really being used. The time for Markey to be outraged was while he could still something about it, not after they stopped spraying it. He's trying to gain political points as well, but he's just as worthless as Allen.

Big deal. Nobody cares. Next.

What also should be at issue is the dispersant that was chosen, Correxit, which has close ties to BP. There was a different and less toxic dispersant available, but which was not approved.

I hope Markey gets to the bottom of this, and if appropriate, hold those responsible for their actions if they did, indeed, cause more harm than necessary.

Perhaps the congressman would like BP to put the oil back. Some people are never satisfied.

"Spill, what spill? Dispersants, what dispersants? Missing oil, what missing oil? Wildlife fund, what wildlife fund? Compensation fund, what compensation fund?"

This is no longer news. It is merely part of BP's continued strategy to limit liability.

Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence and former chief scientist at NOAA, stated that “the instructions for humans using Corexit warn that it is an eye and skin irritant, is harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed, and may cause injury to red blood cells, kidney or the liver.” “People are warned not to take Corexit internally,” she said, “but the fish, turtles, copepods and jellies have no choice. They are awash in a lethal brew of oil and butoxyethanol.”

One problem with breaking down the oil is that it makes it easier for the many tiny underwater organisms to ingest this toxic soup.

Earle has called for a halt on the subsurface use of dispersants, while limiting surface use to strategic sites where other methods cannot safeguard critically important coastal habitats.

For a better understanding of why toxic dispersants are being used by BP in such an excessive and unprecedented manner, visit:


Hey, if they did allow them, they worked. The gulf is clean!

BP just released some pictures of penguins, walruses and orcas frolicking in the clean waters of the Gulf of Mexico...Yeah!

Uhh...wait, penguins? Oh geez, did BP photoshop again?

FUNNY, check it out.


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