LAEO Sends Oil Spill Response Caution to Environment Canada

When I read an analysis of Environmental Canada’s regulation proposal that suggests a list of recommended and authorized oil spill treating agents be kept, I was appalled at the rationale used for justifying chemical dispersants as best-in-class oil spill response agents! Their proposed regulation included language that pre-approved and listed Corexit 9500 oil spill dispersant and 9580 a surface washing agent. These chemicals have clearly proven to be lethal to marine life and make people sick-they penetrate and move up the food chain.

Canada has a problem right now because they are stepping up deep water drilling on their Atlantic coast and several major oil companies are asking for approval on spill-counter-measure plans that allow for chemical dispersant use in the event of a spill. In support of industry and their economy, the Environmental Ministry is lifting their ban against the application of toxic spill clean up agents in their ocean territory in support of deep water drilling off the coast of Nova Scotia. Needless to say, we had to submit an official comment listing better oil spill clean up solutions! Below is a download link to a copy of our submission letter which you may find of interest.

Portion of letter to Environment Canada below:

                                                                                                            August 3, 2015

Carl E. Brown, Manager

Emergencies Science and Technology Section

Environment Canada

335 River Road

Ottawa, Ontario   K1V 1C7                                                  

Re: Public Comments on Regulations

Establishing a List of Spill-Treating Agents (Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act) as published in Canada Gazette, Part 1, July 4, 2015

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on your proposed regulations establishing a list of spill-treating agents (STAs) under the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act and other acts as amended by the Canada Energy Safety and Security Act of 2015.

Since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization (LAEO), a non-profit conservation alliance and its Science and Technology team have worked to find a fix for our broken oil spill response system. We are also doing research work in Canada. As covered in our research paper, A Call for a Twenty-First-Century Solution in Oil Spill Response, we have identified oil spill response system flaws (which includes de-facto favoritism paid to lethal chemical dispersants) such as encouragement of OSRO dispersant stockpiling and a strong U.S. federal agency (EPA/NRT) push for preauthorization of these chemicals. We also assessed and identified a unique and effective spill clean up technology – Bioremediation Enzyme-Additive Agent as it is categorized on the U.S. NCP list – that eliminates any need for dispersant use while effectively remediating a spill. Canada should not follow suit with the U.S and perpetuate its failed spill response plans and chemical dispersant policy and advocacy.

We would like to first address Environment Canada’s Impact Analysis Summary. Our comments contain quotes from your impact analysis in italics with LAEO comments in blue font.

“Spill-treating agents are substances that can be applied following an oil spill to help control the path the spill takes and to mitigate the effects of the spill on the environment. “Spill-treating agent” is a generic term that includes dispersants, herding agents, emulsion treating agents, solidifiers, bioremediation agents, and surface-washing agents.”

The standards and expectations of STAs described as mitigating agents should also reflect standards and methods of spill response that function to REMOVE a spill from the environment, not, merely to mitigate. Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization’s Science and Technology Committed has vetted U.S. EPA product schedule STAs to locate those that meet Clean Water Act standards mandating complete removal of a spill. Please see our publication: Optimizing Oil Spill – Identification and Assessment Methods for Contingency Planning.

“The deposit of deleterious STAs into Canadian waters is potentially prohibited.”

Definition for deleterious and the criteria that would deem an STA deleterious must be expressed in this regulation. Suggested language is available in the publication: Optimizing Oil Spill – Identification and Assessment Methods for Contingency Planning

“Specifically, in the event of an oil spill, the Act lifts the legal prohibitions that would otherwise prevent the use of an STA, provided that the STA is listed in regulations made by the Minister of the Environment; the use of the STA is included in the operator’s contingency plan; in response to a spill, the relevant offshore board’s Chief Conservation Officer determines that its use is likely to achieve a net environmental benefit in the particular circumstances of the spill and approves the use of the STA; the STA is used in accordance with conditions set out in regulations that will developed within the next five years and any other conditions stipulated by the Chief Conservation Officer at the time of the spill; and the Minister of the Environment is consulted at the time of a spill by the Chief Conservation Officer within the five-year transition period during which STA conditions of use regulations will be developed.”

This statement of conditions in which legal prohibitions would be lifted makes an assumption that the STA’s on the Minister of Environment list have been examined and qualified for offshore use. Legal prohibitions that are lifted until regulations are fully developed could lead to lowered environmental protections, not stronger.

The use of STAs will generally only result in acute exposure to affected species.”

“The U.S. EPA has done extensive work on dispersant toxicity both with and without oil, including endocrine disruption.”

Assuming that use will be acute effect only is a presumption that cannot be adopted, nor should it be supported by any regulation. Studies on Corexits definitely indicate persistent lingering plumes of the oil/Corexit mixtures that settle down to the ocean floor and persist for decades. Currents, storms and other conditions transfer this toxic mix keeping the spill in a state where it continues to impact marine life and other organisms that come into contact with it.

See copy of LAEO publication: Chemical Dispersants and the Clean Water Act and our Science and Tech Committee Public Comment to proposed EPA revisions of NCP Sub-Part J governing the NCP Product Schedule:

Any STA Acute Toxicity Test must include measuring alone and in combination with crude oil likely to be spilled in a given environment. Unless measured as a chemical mix with oil,stand-alone toxicity measures do not reflect real spill conditions.

“For these Regulations, Environment Canada scientists have conducted scientific evaluations and have identified two products (one dispersant and one surface-washing agent) known to offer best-in-class characteristics based on extensive long-term study, and demonstrated success during actual oil spill responses in other jurisdictions. The evaluations concluded that these products possess favorable characteristics as oil spill countermeasures and offer the potential for high efficacy coupled with limited toxicity to biota in the marine environment.”  

Please provide a copy of Environmental Canada’s Scientific Evaluations mentioned above.

Any evaluation based on scientific assessment must be cited with all supporting documentation that your decision to list Corexit 9500 and 9580 as best-in-class has been based on. The footnote cited under this statement is from a 2002 study that doesn’t take into account many later studies and contrary research done post 2010 DWH Macondo blow out.

“The Minister of the Environment therefore proposes that these STAs be included in the Regulations:

  1. Corexit® EC9500A …”

This dispersant has been the subject of considerable domestic and international study in the laboratory, in test tanks, and in response to spill emergencies such as the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in 2010. It has been available in the global marketplace for many years and is authorized for use in a number of countries. It is listed for possible use in the United States.” [test results then listed]

Naming specific brands of dispersants in regulations is flawed and demonstrates industry influence and biased positioning for a specific brand of spill clean up agents when other like-products and/or other agent classes are excluded. For instance even during the 2010 BP spill, the U.S. EPA ordered the responsible party (BP) to use a less toxic chemical dispersant recognizing Corexit 9527 was not the least toxic. This research indicated less toxic chemical dispersants were in fact available and listed on the U.S. NCP list, but these were not selected because of insufficient quantities stockpiled for the size of the Macondo spill response requirements. This suggests less toxic dispersants exist, yet have not been identified or evaluated by Environment Canada. The Canada STA list must be a reflection of science-based vetting, validation and adjudication procedures protocoled on established and consistent efficacy and toxicity measurement standards for any agent listed. Pre-screening and listing the Corexits when a complete assessment of best available agents on the market does not appear to have been done or even attempted here, undermines the intent of Clean Water Act law and regulatory provisions.

All listed competing products/agents should receive equal assessment and grading criteria. This will as well provide a transparent side-by-side comparison incentivizing innovation, improved efficacy and toxicity scores giving greater environmental protections. Best-in-class or any other similar designation would be relative to class of agent, purpose of agent, end result of agent giving transparent comparisons for decision makers and other merit indicators.

Please see complete details and rationale for this in LAEO’s April 22, 2015 Public Comment to U.S. EPA’s proposed NCP Product Schedule regulations at:

Note: Mandating ‘real spill condition information’ for a product to be listed and adjudicated as “best in class”, will exclude or, at best, make it very difficult for new technologies/ innovative spill response solutions and systems from accessing the network of clean up contractors and discourage inclusion in spill contingency plans by industry unless identified as ‘pre approved’ by Environment Canada. If real spill conditions are required, then testing and monitoring of eligible products should be allowed for and facilitated under controlled conditions by Environment Canada including providing open water mesocosm environments for identifying best in class agents.

“The Minister of the Environment may amend these Regulations by adding other STAs in the future. Other STA products will be tested for toxicity and effectiveness on the basis of criteria to be established relative to the best-in-class products. Environment Canada will also evaluate data available from other sources, such as the U.S. EPA’s NCP. Should new information become available that indicates a listed product poses a greater risk to the environment than originally estimated, the product can be removed from the list.”

An exact path/process for a manufacturer to get a product evaluated by Environment Canada for inclusion on the STA list and in contingency plans must be specified in this regulation. How does an STA get the attention of Environment Canada and how does it get evaluated? How do existing studies, scientific documentation etc. get submitted and actually reviewed? If no opportunity for use on a real spill unless listed, how would a potential agent get consideration? This would need to be established or no advancement in the field will take place.

“In evaluating other STA products for possible addition to this regulatory list, Environment Canada may also conduct supplemental studies as warranted to ascertain the risks and the potential ecological impacts related to product use, such as amendment of oil mobility that may affect the fate and transport of the treated oil, and the toxicity of degradation by-products. A significant weight will be given to lessons learned from experience gained during actual spill response, as available.”

Again, there must be an exact path for environment Canada adjudication of ‘warranted’ otherwise this becomes arbitrary and at the whim of whatever influences the need for a supplemental study. Qualifications on what would warrant further study should be specified. (See earlier referenced Criteria and Assessment Booklet by LAEO which may serve as a guide.)

Note also, Class of STA within the context of an overall spill response plan should represent a plan that results in complete removal of a spill, and if an STA does not contribute to the complete removal of pollutants in the environment, Net Environmental Benefit is questionable and will always be in doubt. Dispersants as a Class of Agent break up and sink oil into the water column, albeit smaller droplets, but this doesn’t remove oil from the environment – and further, dispersion makes it virtually impossible to mechanically remove once dispersants are applied. Studies and records indicate dispersed oil remains in the environment for decades.

Further, LAEO concurs with Dr. Riki Ott and the Alert Project’s Public Comment along with WWF’s Public Comment submitted to you regards Corexit. The citations in these submissions are critically important and directly supportive that the listing and use of named Corexit agents have uncertain impacts; hence they do not belong on Environmental Canada’s STA list until such time that environmental impacts have scientific certainty.

Here are key data from The Alert Project and WWF’s submissions that we concur with:

“Merv Fingas, former Chief of the Emergencies Science Division of Environment Canada and internationally renowned expert on dispersants and other “spill-treating agent” (STA) products, recently wrote an extensive review of recent literature on dispersant use in marine oil spill response.[1] According to Fingas, there are three primary motives for using oil spill dispersants: to reduce the impact of oil on shorelines; to reduce the impact on birds and mammals on the water surface; and to promote biodegradation of oil in the water column. Further, according to Fingas and other supporting evidence, these motives have proven to be largely invalid, based on ongoing evidence from the BP DWH disaster, in which at least 7 million litres (1.84 million gallons) of Corexit dispersants were applied, including Corexit 9500A and 9580A.

In sum, dispersant applications in major oil spills have never prevented oil from coming ashore,[2] and the oil that comes ashore is likely to have dispersant mixed with it. Once ashore, dispersants increase the penetration or downward migration of highly toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)[3] into beach subsurface sediments, making removal impossible or uncertain, while also risking groundwater contamination.[4]”

“Corexit dispersants contain chemical ingredients known to be neurotoxins, mutagens, teratogens (able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus), and carcinogens, and known to rupture red blood cells, causing hemolysis (bleeding) and liver and kidney damage, among other things.[5] Corexit dispersants contain many ingredients that target the same organs in the body as oil. Also, as oil-based solvents, they act as an oil delivery system, facilitating the entry of oil into the body, into cells, which can damage every organ system in the body.[6] According to a July 2010 scientific consensus statement, “The properties that facilitate the movement of dispersants through oil also make it easier for them to move through cell walls, skin barriers, and membranes that protect vital organs, underlying layers of skin, the surfaces of eyes, mouths, and other structures.” [7]

Fingas reported that chemically-dispersed oil was up to 300 times more toxic than physically-dispersed oil, because of the increased PAHs in the water column. Studies in the wake of the BP DWH oil-dispersant disaster found that dispersants compounded harm instead of mitigating it to a wide variety of sea life[8] from the base of the food web such as bacteria, zooplankton, corals,[9] oysters, blue crabs, and killifish[10] to apex predators such as tuna and dolphins.[11] This was primarily due to the increase of PAHs in the chemically-enhanced water soluble fraction.[12] Scientists found deformed and dying sea life in the region was “spatially coordinated with oil from the [BP] Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil and subsurface oil,” according to Dr. Jim Cowan with Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences.[13] This remains the case: a three-year study on bottlenose dolphins found the high rate of dolphin deaths and strandings “overlap in time and space with locations that received heavy and prolonged oiling” during the BP DWH disaster.[14]”

Promotion of biodegradation of oil in the water column

“As for mitigating impacts by promoting biodegradation in the water column through formation of smaller oil droplets, this has proven to be more theory than science. According to Fingas, “one-third of the studies noted inhibition of oil biodegradation, about one-third noted acceleration, and about one-third noted that the rates were the same…” [15] One study post-BP DWH disaster found Corexit EC9500A inhibited biodegradation, as the surfactants were toxic to beneficial oil-eating bacteria.[16] While some studies show that dispersants may facilitate degradation of simple hydrocarbons like alkanes, dispersants do not increase the biodegradation rate of the more toxic and complex aromatic hydrocarbons, specifically the PAHs.[17] On the whole, it seems that biodegradation of oil is best left to nature or biological agents, not chemical agents.

THEREFORE, we conclude that dispersant use does not reduce the impact of oil on shorelines and, in fact, acts to worsen impacts of stranded oil; it does not reduce the impact on birds and mammals on the water surface and, in fact, acts to worsen the impact; and it does not promote biodegradation of oil’s most toxic components, the PAHs, and, in fact, actually inhibits biodegradation of alkanes in some cases. Thus, the weight of evidence strongly suggests that use of Corexit dispersants is likely not to create a net environmental benefit, because dispersant use exacerbates the toxic effects of oil.”

We see no need to reiterate the material contained in the Alert Project, WWF and other submitted comments. The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization most strongly advocates that instead of millions of tax payer dollars spent on dispersant studies, monitoring, etc., said rule changes should lead to equal scientific resources and effort being applied to identifying safe and non-toxic oil spill cleanup technologies to replace those with undesirable trade offs that are ineffective at removing toxic and other harmful elements of a spill. Any list of STAs should be a living document that reflects best available technology and science with mechanisms in place to incentivize this.

Further, the Canada STA list should be viewed as part of an integrated system with inter-related tools. It should not leave open questions about agents it lists and critical adjudications of what response method is appropriate for use on a given spill. This places full responsibility on unqualified decision-makers operating in high-stress emergency conditions.  Looking at a response method in a single view without regard to how these chemical and biological agents work within an integrated system is problematic as well as dangerous. Below is Appendix I containing LAEO’s submitted comments to U.S. EPA that are likewise applicable to Canada’s proposed STA list management.

The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization is interested in collaborating with Environment Canada to examine the biological agent class – Bioremediation Enzyme Additive Category/Class as an effective first response agent for open water spills and viable replacement for chemical dispersants. In this way, efforts can be towards examining all product classes for STA listing and bring constructive improvements and environmental protections for Canada as deep-water drilling projects expand. We will send a formal request for such a project to commence separately.


Diane Wagenbrenner

LAEO Science and Tech Committee Coordinator

VP Operations

[1] Fingas, Merv, 2014, A review of literature related to oil dispersants, 2011–2014, for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, Anchorage, Alaska.

[2] French, John, 2013, How do oil dispersants work as oil spill response counter measures?, presentation at the 6th annual Northwestern Tribal Water Rights Conference hosted by the Center for Water Advocacy, Anchorage, Alaska, October 2013.

[3] Peterson, Charles, et al., “Long-term Ecosystem Responses to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” 2003; 302:2082–2086.

Ott, Riki, 2004, Sound Truth and Corporate Myths: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Dragonfly Sisters Press, Cordova, AK).

[4] Kirby, J., III, “Findings of Persistency of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Residual Tar Product Sourced from Crude Oil Released during the Deepwater Horizon MC252 Spill of National Significance,” supported by the Surfrider Foundation, April 14, 2012.

Zuijdgeest A, and M Huettel, 2012, Dispersants as Used in Response to the MC252-Spill Lead to Higher Mobility of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Oil-Contaminated Gulf of Mexico Sand. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50549. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050549

[5] Burns, K. and Harbut, M.R., 2010. Gulf Oil Spill Hazards, Sciencecorps, Lexington, MA, June 14, 2010. Available at

[6] Burns and Harbut, Gulf Oil Spill Hazards.

[7] Consensus Statement: Scientists oppose the use of dispersant chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico, July 16, 2010. Statement drafted by Dr. Susan D. Shaw, Marine Environmental Research Institute. Quotes on pp. 1–2.

[8] Kirby, David, 2013, Corexit, oil dispersants used by BP is destroying Gulf marine life, scientists say, Huffington Post, April 25, 2013.

Sawyer, William, 2013, Gulf oil spill: Dispersants have potential to cause more harm than good, PRNewwire, May 11, 2013.

[9] McClain, Craig, et al., 2015, Given the choice, corals would prefer oil to dispersants, Deep Sea News, April 8, 2015.

[10] Almeda R, Wambaugh Z, Wang Z, Hyatt C, Liu Z, et al. (2013) Interactions between Zooplankton and Crude Oil: Toxic Effects and Bioaccumulation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67212. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067212

Fern, R., 2013, Acute toxicity of three alone and in combination with crude oil on Callinectus sapidus megalopae, 2013 Gulf of Mexico oil spill & ecosystem science conference, Jan. 21–23, 2013, New Orleans, LA.

Fingas, 2014, Dispersant literature review.

Goodbody-Gringley G, et al., 2013, Toxicity of [BP] Deepwater Horizon Source Oil and the Chemical Dispersant, Corexit® 9500, to Coral Larvae. PLoS ONE 8(1): e45574.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045574

Jung, SW, et al., 2012, Stronger impact of dispersant plus crude oil on natural plankton assemblages in short-term marine mesocosms, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volumes 217–218, Pages 338-349, ISSN 0304-3894, 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2012.03.034

Laramore, S., 2013, Acute and sublethal impacts of MC252 oil and dispersants on early life stages of Crassostrea virginica, 2013 Gulf of Mexico oil spill & ecosystem science conference, Jan. 21–23, 2013, New Orleans, LA.

Rico-Martinez, Roberto, Terry Snell, and Tonya Shearer, 2013. “Synergistic toxicity of Macondo crude oil and dispersant Corexit 9500A® to the Brachionus plicatilis species complex (Rotifera).” Environ. Pollution, 173:5–10.

[11] Carmichael, Ruth, et al., “Were Multiple Stressors a ‘Perfect Storm’ for Northern Gulf of Mexico Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in 2011?” PLoS ONE 2012; 7(7): e41155

Incardona, John P., et al., 2014, Deepwater Horizon crude oil impacts the developing hearts of large predatory pelagic fish, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online March 24, 2014, E1510–E1518. 1073/pnas.1320950111/

Sahagun, Louis, 2014, Toxins released by oil spills send fish hearts into cardiac arrest, Science Now, 2/13/14.,0,5212912.story#axzz2tKbuS7Oy

Schwacke, Lori, et al., Health of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2014, 48, 93−103,

[12] Fingas, 2014, Dispersant Review.

[13] Jamail, Dahr, 2012, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists,” Aljazeera English, April 20, 2012.

[14] Schleifstein, Mark, 2015, Study associates 3-year pattern of Gulf of Mexico bottlenose dolphin deaths with BP oil spill, Times-Picayune, Feb. 12, 2015.

Venn-Watson, Stephanie, et al., 2015, Demographic Clusters Identified within the Northern Gulf of Mexico Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) Unusual Mortality Event: January 2010 – June 2013, PLoS ONE, Feb. 11, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117248.

[15] Fingas, 2014, Dispersant literature review, quote on p. vii.

[16] Hamdan, Leila, and Preston Fulmer, “Effects of COREXIT® EC9500A on bacteria from a beach oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill,” Aquatic Microbial Ecology, 2011; 63:101-109.

[17] Wilcock, R., et al., “Persistence of polycyclic aromatic compounds of different molecular size and water solubility in surficial sediment of an intertidal sandflat,” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 1996; 15:670-676.

Fingas, 2014, Dispersant literature review.


Cooperative Ecology-A New Rationale for Constructive Interaction Between Humankind and Earth’s Flora, Fauna and Biota.


Cooperative Ecology-A New Rationale for Constructive Interaction Between Humankind and Earth’s Flora, Fauna and Biota.

[iii] Test results

Corexit® EC9500A is highly effective in laboratory performance screening tests and was determined to be “practically non-toxic” (see footnote 6) by international standards in aquatic toxicity tests. The individual ingredients are not found on Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999.

  1. Corexit® EC9580A

This surface-washing agent is suitable as a hard-surface cleaner on shorelines and man-made structures. It has been the subject of considerable study in the laboratory, in field trials, and in response to spill emergencies such as the Morris J. Berman spill in 1994 in Puerto Rico. It has been available in the global marketplace for many years and is listed for possible use in the United States.

Test results

Corexit® EC9580A is highly effective in laboratory performance screening tests and was determined to be “non-toxic” (see footnote 7) by international standards in aquatic toxicity” tests. The individual ingredients are not found on Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999.