Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

The Secret’s Out

By Dave Andrews, Ph.D., EWG senior scientist, and Nils Bruzelius, executive editor

It took almost a month. After weeks of complaints that BP and its supplier were stonewalling requests for a complete ingredients list for the dispersants being dumped on the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Environmental Protection Agency posted the information with no fanfare on its website Wednesday (June 9). A slightly different version of the list appeared on the website of Nalco Energy Services, which makes the stuff.

There were no great surprises, but releasing the information when you’re a million gallons into the game made a mockery of any effort to research and evaluate safer alternatives, efficacy and long term effects. Instead of more comprehensive premarket safety testing, the experiment is being run on a monumental scale in the Gulf of Mexico. Now all we can do is wait and see what the long-term impact will be on marine life, the larger environment and on people who come in contact with the contaminated waters.

Greenwire, Energy and Environment Daily’s online environmental news outlet, reported that two of the hazardous ingredients in Nalco’s Corexit 9500 formula had been disclosed previously. A third one disclosed Wednesday turns out to be dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, a detergent, which appears on both lists under a different name.

Nalco had earlier placed the ingredients in Corexit 9500 under a cloak of “confidential business information” or CBI, which under current law barred EPA from releasing the details on the grounds that they would give away a valuable trade secret to the company’s competitors.

But as Greenwire noted, the mere listing of the ingredients didn’t include one piece of potentially important information: how much of each one is contained in the Corexit 9500 formula. It quoted Nalco spokesman Charlie Pajor as saying:

“Having the full ingredients out there is only part of the information that someone wanting to copy the product would need.”

That was an interesting admission in light of the chemical industry’s insistence that it needs the right to claim CBI, which keeps the public from learning the chemical identity of 17,000 chemicals on EPA’s inventory, in order to protect manufacturers’ trade secrets. It makes you wonder whether disclosure of these chemical identities, which is vitally important to cleanup workers in the Gulf — and to emergency responders, research scientists and the public – is really such a threat to these companies’ intellectual property, and their profits.

The release of the Corexit ingredients came on the same day that The Associated Press published a nice bit of reporting on BP’s 2009 response plan for a Gulf of Mexico oil spill, documenting that the plan was “riddled with omissions and glaring errors.”

As a prime example, BP listed Professor Peter Lutz of the University of Miami as a wildlife specialist whom the company could consult if the worst happened. There’s just one little problem, AP reported. Lutz died four years ago. And he hadn’t been in Miami for 16 years before that.

BP’s 582-page regional spill plan and its 52-page site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig also had wrong names and phone numbers for other specialists and listed marine mammal stranding network offices that are no longer functioning, AP reported. Not to mention:

” There are other wildly false assumptions in the documents. BP’s proposed method to calculate spill volume judging by the darkness of the oil sheen is way off. The internationally accepted formula would produce estimates 100 times higher.”

Nice work, AP!

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3 Responses to “The Secret’s Out”

  1. Mary says:

    Maybe we ask all other companies (not just Nalco) to disclose what they put in all those products we use everyday in our house huh? Or we should have just let the oil kill everything? People need to get a life.

  2. Charmaine says:

    I dont understand why the environmentalists are halting the construction of berms, but not objecting to this unproven chemical being dispersed for hundreds of miles of populated beaches. See if you can get this story on the main news channels- good luck, they seem to forget that real people live there.

  3. Calvin Mckew says:

    I question if they will come to their senses and quit with the oil. Alternate technological know-how has already been there to replace it!