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Deadly aftermath from BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster is finally leading to new rules for companies handling oil spills: 'Should have been required decades ago'

"What heartened me was the shift to holding the industry more accountable."

Deepwater Horizon disaster strengthens cleanup regulations

Photo Credit: iStock

Companies responsible for environmental disasters will need to clean up their acts during cleanups, the Environmental Protection Agency announced in June.

Faced with mounting evidence — and legal action — relating to the human health and environmental impacts of chemicals used to clean up catastrophes such as BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the EPA is strengthening its oversight of these chemicals and their uses.

New restrictions take effect in December. As The Guardian reported, the last time the EPA updated cleanup-chemical regulations was in 1994.

The goal is to deter companies from compounding spill damage. For future spills, responsible parties will need to use "safer and more effective spill mitigating products," the finalized rule proclaimed, to minimize hazards to humans and habitats.

As an investigation by The Guardian revealed, thousands of people who did the dirty work of cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico became ill afterward. Some even died

Ailments ranged from respiratory issues, rashes, and diarrhea — sometimes locally called "BP syndrome" — to cancer, according to The Guardian. Yet workers and their families have struggled to hold BP responsible.

In 2021, a federal judge ordered the EPA to update regulations after five environmental organizations, an Alaska Native leader, and a Louisiana fisher sued, per The Guardian. Through this legal action, the claimants forced the agency to incorporate lessons learned from the BP spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, The Guardian noted.

"What heartened me was the shift to holding the industry more accountable for its own product use by requiring things that should have been required decades ago," Riki Ott, Alaska toxicologist and director of lead plaintiff Earth Island Institute's ALERT Project, told The Guardian.

The new rule, an amendment to existing law, will ideally prevent practices such as withholding information about dispersants, as reportedly happened during BP's cleanup. 

The Guardian noted that companies won't be allowed to hide dispersant ingredients, that local leaders will have more authority to monitor uses, and that the EPA will re-test products and can remove approvals if companies fail to prepare and educate workers about risks, as BP did, per The Guardian and court documents.

Ultimately, the tougher regulation of cleanup chemicals is another tool for reining in the impacts of an industry responsible for millions of gallons of spill waste along with pollution that overheats the planet.

The amended EPA rule noted, "Prompt and accurate information will allow the public to evaluate and understand the potential human and environmental effects of these chemical agents."

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