Federal officials on Wednesday defended the use of chemical dispersants to battle the huge oil spill off the Louisiana coast.
The spill from the Deepwater Horizon remained more than 50 miles west of the tip of the Florida Panhandle as more oil was washing ashore in Louisiana. BP and the U. S. Coast Guard have used more than 387,000 gallons of dispersants. The surface slick is being sprayed with dispersants from aircraft and the chemicals also have been pumped into the oil leaking from a well one mile deep on the Gulf floor.
The National Academy of Sciences raised concerns about the effects of dispersants on aquatic life in a 2005 report. Felicia Coleman, director of Florida State University's Coastal and Marine Laboratory, said earlier this week that using the dispersants simply may be trading the visible harm of oil onshore for a less visible harm offshore. She said using the dispersants offshore could harm grouper larvae but she added that the oil slick may also harm vital sea grass meadows as it moves inshore.
On Wednesday, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said during a conference call with reporters that the agency is monitoring the use of dispersants. But she acknowledged that the volume being used in the oil spill response also reflects "uncharted waters." BP is required to test the effectiveness of underwater use of dispersants before allowing continued use, she said.
"We absolutely must be aggressive in tackling this spill," Jackson said. "And at the same time we will take absolute care to make sure any efforts we take are not just substituting one challenge for another."
Dana Tulis, acting director of the EPA Office of Emergency Management, said the dispersants cause the oil to degrade more quickly than it would otherwise. "It's not a case where we are simply transferring oil from the surface to the sea floor," she said.
On Tuesday, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said there is no authorized use now of the dispersants in state waters, which extend to 10.3 miles from the shore, because of concerns about toxicity. He said the dispersants will use their effectiveness as the oil moves closer to Florida from the spill site more than 100 miles away. "The likelihood of using dispersants near Florida is small," Sole said.
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