EPA Must Update Regulations for Oil Spill Dispersants, Court Rules

Image: US Coast Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must update decades-old regulations on chemicals used to disperse offshore oil spills. Environmental groups say that many of these chemicals carry significant health and biodiversity risks and that tighter regulations are necessary. The decision comes following a lawsuit from environmental groups alleging that the agency purposely delayed updating the 1994 rules for six years. The EPA will now have until May 31, 2023, to finalize updates.

Why This Matters: Cleaning oil spills is no easy task, and for decades, cleanup crews have used potent chemicals to disperse oil in the water. But environmentalists say that these chemicals may be even more harmful to ecosystems than the spilled oil.

Instead of mitigating environmental harm, chemical dispersants have proven — when mixed with oil — to be more toxic to humans and the environment than the oil alone,” said the Center in a statement.

Thicker Than Water: The ruling comes after a years-long battle fought by environmental groups and plaintiff communities following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Gulf Coast communities argued that their community saw public health crises not as a result of oil but due to the dispersants used in the cleanup efforts. “I’ve witnessed my community experience an explosion of cancer cases,” said Kindra Arnesen, a plaintiff and community activist in Louisiana. “I know I went to 22 funerals in 18 months. Then, I stopped counting.”

Communities in regions where oil and gas operations are ongoing and even expanding say that they’re worried about what future oil spills and subsequent cleanups could mean for their health and food supplies. “I worry for the generations to come because some of our traditional foods live for centuries, meaning they may migrate through many oil spills during their lifespan,” said Plaintiff Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an Iñupiat tribal leader. “We can’t allow toxic chemicals to be added to a toxic oil spill for the benefit of the spillers.”

The Center for Biological Diversity says that this ruling is a win for the oceans, wildlife, and coastal communities. Still, the EPA’s new regulations are yet to be determined. Communities hope that new rules will prioritize their health over the financial wellbeing of companies.

In Other Chemical News…

Bayer has lost its third appeal against a U.S. court verdict that awarded damages to customers that alleged its glyphosate-based weed-killers caused their cancers. The California appeals court upheld the $86 million judgment that found the company’s Roundup brand weed-killers caused cancer. Despite these rulings, the company says they aren’t backing down. “We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling as the verdict is not supported by the evidence at trial or the law. Monsanto will consider its legal options in this case,” Bayer said in a statement.

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