EPA Proposal on Dispersant Use Validates Our Five Years in the Gulf of Mexico

Sometimes it is hard to measure the direct effects of our work.  As we collect data on marine mammals and our oceans we have two principle goals: the first is to change people’s attitudes as to the importance of our oceans and the second is to collect data that can help policy makers make wise decisions as they relate to sustainable utilization of ocean resources.

Last week we saw a clear indication of the value of the work that we have been conducting in the Gulf of Mexico over the last 5 summers with our partners at the Wise Laboratory and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Citing lessons learned during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency has just proposed sweeping changes in regulations for the use of chemical dispersants and other substances in future spills.

John Wise & Iain Kerr

John Wise & Iain Kerr

We are very excited by this decision, as some of the lessons learned by the EPA have to be based on the data we collected and subsequent publications by our partners at the Wise Laboratory of Environmental & Genetic Toxicology. Our data demonstrated that the extensive use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico likely exacerbated the toxicological effects of the spill and duration to which wildlife was/is being exposed to these toxic chemicals. We presented on our data at the 2013 American Academy for the Advancement of Science Conference and at the 2013 and 2014 Society of Toxicology conferences. I also addressed our concern for how dispersants were used in the Gulf of Mexico when he was invited to speak to a committee at the United Nations.

“We collect samples, have them analyzed, write papers on results and present them at scientific meetings. The entities responsible for the problems whose effects we study never make the mistake of letting it be known that anything an organization like ours does has hurt them—that would only strengthen our case and hurt theirs. The only reward we normally get is having others carry forward with work that we started. That’s why it is so exciting when a regulatory agency like the EPA changes its rulings in response to the very kinds of data that we have provided.” – Roger Payne, President of Ocean Alliance

Whale tail with oil rig in the Gulf of MexicoWhile it is clear to us that the EPA is recognizing that these chemicals are toxic and some of them are endocrine-disrupting chemicals in mammals, banning the use of dispersants in freshwater highlights concerns for what we call critical habitats. The EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register.  We will be sure to comment on this rule, saying that while our preference would be for these chemicals to be banned outright (as they have been in Europe and Australia) this ruling is a step in the right direction.

One of the other suggestions that we will put forward is that critical habitats should be identified in locations where these chemicals should not be used under any circumstances. In the Gulf of Mexico we have found high concentrations of marine mammals in locations such as the DeSoto Canyon; we will suggest to the EPA that this region be designed as critical habitat. We will also suggest that other locations (such as locations with an abundance of deepwater corals) also being designated as critical habitat.

– Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance