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EPA Addresses Public Concerns and Meets with Community Members on the BP Oil Spill

One of the most important elements of the federal government response to the BP oil spill is the involvement of the community. In a speech to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told the audience, "It is critical that every community is engaged in the discussions on how we recover from this crisis. The people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the spill must be empowered in the response and long-term rebuilding."

This week EPA staff members are in the Gulf holding meetings to hear the concerns and ideas of those who live in the region and know it best. Lisa Garcia, Senior Advisor to the Administrator on Environmental Justice, and Shira Sternberg, Special Assistant in the Office of Public Engagement, met with local leaders in Biloxi, MS, Prichard, AL and New Orleans, LA, and attended two open houses in MS and LA. Mathy Stanislaus, EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development, were in New Orleans Tuesday and Wednesday this week attending a meeting on health effects of the oil spill. The meeting was organized by the Institute of Medicine at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services. You can see photos of EPA's community meetings on Administrator Jackson's Facebook page.

One concern many Gulf residents, community leaders and environmentalists have shared with us is over the safety of dispersant. Dispersant is a type of chemical sprayed on or near the spill itself that break up the oil into smaller pieces, speeding its natural degradation and slowing the spread of the spill. The decision to authorize dispersant is based on science indicating that it is less toxic than oil. Nonetheless, the use of dispersant is being carefully monitored and strictly limited to only what is necessary.

EPA efforts have resulted in a significant reduction in the use of dispersant in the past month. This week we calculated that, since EPA and the Coast Guard directed BP to significantly ramp down dispersant use on May 23, use of dispersant is down 68% from its peak. We have been closely tracking undersea oxygen and toxicity levels, as well as other indicators to gauge potential impacts of undersea application, and have detected no dispersant compounds in water tested near the shore. Mobile air monitors taking samples throughout the region have detected only very small amounts of dispersant-related compounds. These amounts are well below anything likely to cause harm to health or the environment. Because of their low concentrations, and the fact that these compounds are common in cleaning products and coatings, it's difficult to know with certainty whether the small amounts detected are related to the spill. If they are, their presence is very small.

In addition, we are making progress on our independent testing of eight dispersant products on the NCP Product Schedule. We are also conducting toxicity tests of the dispersant being used. To assure the quality of the data, these tests take time. As soon as we have analyzed the data, we will share the results with the public.

We also want to hear your solutions. EPA is now participating in the Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program - a cross-government effort to address and evaluate possible technology solutions for the oil spill response efforts. If you've already submitted a possible technology solution to EPA, it is being processed by the appropriate decision-makers. If you have not submitted, or have another idea you think will work, please share it with us.

To learn more on what EPA is doing in the Gulf, and for the latest announcements, monitoring data and updates, visit www.epa.gov/bpspill.

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