Protecting Oceans and People from Toxic Chemical Dispersants


Earth Island's ALERT project, along with a coalition of environmental justice groups and individuals, is initiating litigation to compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue rules on the use of chemical agents such as Corexit to clean up oil spills. Instead of mitigating environmental harm, Corexit dispersants have proven to be more toxic to humans and the environment than the oil alone. The use of dispersants like Corexit is an oil spill response method outlined in a set of federal regulations called the National Contingency Plan, which governs our nation’s oil and chemical pollution emergency responses. The Clean Water Act directs EPA to periodically review the Plan and update it to account for new information and new technology. But the EPA has not updated the plan since 1994, and that update did not even incorporate lessons learned from the long-term ecosystem studies following the Exxon Valdez disaster that occurred 30 years ago on March 24, 1989 -- much less the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In response to public pressure from Dr. Ott, ALERT's project director, and other plaintiffs involved in today’s filing, the EPA finally initiated a rulemaking proceeding and invited public comment on the use of Corexit in oil spill response actions. By the time the rulemaking comment period closed in April 2015, the agency had received over 81,000 responses, the majority of which called for reducing the use of chemical dispersants while decreasing their toxicity and increasing their efficacy. Since that time, the EPA has been silent on the issue.

The EPA’s failure to conclude the process to issue updated regulations violates the agency’s administrative obligations under the law and puts at risk the 133 million or so Americans who live near the coasts, making up 39 percent of the U.S. population, and the millions more who live near lakes, rivers, or along oil pipeline corridors and who are in harm’s way of the next “big one.”

A fact sheet on Corexit is available here.

Significant Developments

March 26, 2019: In the News - The Washington Post

Chemical that EPA allows to help clean up oil spills sickens people and fish, lawsuit claims

March 26, 2019: In the News - The Guardian

Thirty years after Exxon Valdez, the response to oil spills is still all wrong

March 25, 2019: Blog Post - Legal Planet

Coastal Communities Demand EPA Update Decades-Old Spill Regulations

March 25, 2019: In the News - Alaska Native News

Environmental Advocates Announce Lawsuit Over EPA's Dangerously Outdated Response Plan for Oil Spills

March 25, 2019: Case Update 

Notice of Intent to Sue sent to EPA for its failure under the Clean Water Act to update the National Contingency Plan with respect to the use of chemical dispersants during oil spill response actions.



Legal Team

Claudia Polsky and Purba Mukerjee, attorneys

Camila Gonzalez and Jack Siddoway, student clinicians

Berkeley Environmental Law Clinic

Focus Area

Pollution and Toxics