EPA Releases Reports on Dioxin Emitted During Deepwater Horizon BP Spill

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on November 16, 2010

Follow up to previous postings on the Gulf Coast oil spill, this EPA news release: [the agency] released two peer reviewed reports concerning dioxins emitted during the controlled burns of oil during the Deepwater Horizon BP spill. Dioxins describe a group of hundreds of potentially cancer-causing chemicals that can be formed during combustion or burning. The reports found that while small amounts of dioxins were created by the burns, the levels that workers and residents would have been exposed to were below EPA’s levels of concern. Controlled burning of oil on the surface of the ocean (also called in situ burning) was one method used by the Unified Command during the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, to reduce the spread of oil and environmental impacts at the shoreline. A total of 411 controlled burn events occurred of which 410 could be quantified, resulting in the combustion of an estimated 222,000 to 313,000 barrels of oil (or 9.3 to 13.1 million gallons).

  • The first report summarizing EPA’s sampling effort indicates that while dioxins were created from the burning of oil on ocean water, they were created at low levels – levels similar to the emissions from residential woodstoves and forest fires.
  • The second report, coauthored with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), presents the results of a screening risk assessment for the dioxins emitted from the controlled oil burns. The results indicate that increased cancer risk due to exposure to the dioxins released from the controlled burning of oil was small – less than a 1 in 1,000,000 increased cancer risk. Additional cancer risks for inhalation by workers, onshore residents and fish consumption by residents were lower than risk levels that typically are of concern to the Agency.Typically, the Agency has a concern when the risk is greater than 1 in 1,000,000.
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