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Administration Defends Use of Dispersants After Oil Spill

At a Senate hearing today, Obama administration officials defended BP’s use of dispersants to break up oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Paul Anastas, assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, said that the agency allowed dispersants in the Gulf only after much consideration. “The decision to use dispersants was a decision not taken lightly,” Anastas said, adding later, “That said, when you look at all of the tools to combat this tragedy…dispersants have been shown to be one important tool in that toolbox.”

David Westerholm, director of the Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, compared using dispersants to treating a fast moving, potentially fatal disease like cancer. Long-term research might give doctors more information about the disease and better, less risky ways to fight it, but “at the moment in time, you have to make that decision.”

The administration’s comments come as Rep. Edward Markey and others have raised serious concerns about the use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico to respond to the oil spill, arguing that the chemicals used are toxic and could have negative impacts on human health and the environment. At the same time, EPA this week released the results of an analysis of dispersants that found oil mixed with dispersants has a similar toxicity to oil alone.

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