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Smoke rises from a controlled burn May 19, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. According to reports May 20, 2010, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered BP to use a less toxic chemical oil dispersant to break up the oil in the Gulf. - 


Tess Vigeland: Today as oil began lapping at the edge of Louisiana's marshlands. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to start using a less toxic form of chemical dispersant against that big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This from the agency that approved the dispersant BP is using in the first place.
Confused? We were too.

So we asked Marketplace's Rob Schmitz to sort it out.

Rob Schmitz: The EPA wouldn't comment on its decision. Nalco wouldn't either -- that's the company that makes the dispersant BP's been using. Instead, company spokesman John Shane read a rosy statement that seemed to ignore the decision altogether.

John Shane: We are gratified that the EPA has acknowledged that the use of Nalco's dispersants has been effective and has had no undue impact on the marine environment.

So why, then, did the EPA ban any further use of it in the Gulf?

Richard Charter: The laboratory evaluation of these various dispersant chemicals obviously bears no relation to their application in the real world in the kinds of volumes we've been seeing.

Defender for Wildlife's Richard Charter has spent 30 years working on offshore drilling issues. He says the dispersant BP has used so far, called Corexit, doesn't live up to its name.

Charter: It doesn't really correct the problem, it simply redistributes it. It's been called "saving the beaches at the expense of the ocean."

So far, more than half-a-million gallons of Corexit have been sprayed in the Gulf. So, what will BP use now? The trouble is, less toxic dispersants haven't been fully researched.

Charter: Industry, is, of course, too "poverty stricken" to research them, and the government has not been inclined to do it, so we're kind of caught off guard here without really a range of products in our arsenal that have been tested.

Nalco sold BP its entire stock of Corexit at the beginning of this disaster. This, of course, begs the question that if there is a less toxic dispersant out there, would there be enough of it?

I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz