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EPA says no evidence yet that dispersants to clean up oil spill are harmful

Environment and Public Works Senate committee hearing on dispersants
Environment and Public Works Senate committee hearing on dispersants
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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A Senate committee is examining the effects of dispersants used to break up oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. California Senator Barbara Boxer is asking the Environmental Protection Agency about the safety of those chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency says dispersants have not depleted oxygen in the Gulf to “dangerous levels.”

That’s good news for fish, but what about the 250 spill cleanup workers with health complaints? Citing Louisiana health statistics, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer ticked off symptoms as though she was reading the side effects on a TV pharmaceutical commercial: "most frequent reports include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, upper respiratory irritation; 17 workers have had short hospitalizations."

Boxer heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She asked the EPA’s Paul Anastas whether cleanup workers were adequately prepared. "You’re saying that, to your knowledge, the workers were warned they had to wear protective gear and they knew about this?"

Anastas said that OSHA was "actively involved in informing workers."

The BP leak has poured more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP has sprayed nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants to break up the clouds of petroleum. The EPA says it will continue to study the Gulf because it doesn’t know for sure the long term effects dispersants have on the ocean.

The ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, described the use of dispersants to break up the oil as “the lesser of two evils.”