EPA: Dioxins from Macondo spill control burns below danger point

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 16 -- Dioxin levels following 411 controlled burns of crude oil spilled from the Macondo well did not reach a point where they posed threats to spill recovery workers or Gulf Coast residents, the US Environmental Protection Agency said on Nov. 12.

The agency released two peer-reviewed studies covering all but one of the burns, which resulted in the combustion of an estimated 222,000-313,000 bbl of spilled crude. EPA sampled emissions at the source of the controlled burns with US Coast Guard assistance to identify potential exposures to potentially cancer-causing chemicals that can be formed during crude combustion or burning. It tried to determine potential risks from inhalation to workers in the fires’ vicinity and to the general population as well as risks to persons eating fish caught in the area.

EPA said the first report’s sampling effort found that while dioxins were created from burning oil on the gulf’s surface, the levels were similar to those from forest fires and residential wood stoves.

It said that the second report, which was cowritten with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, determined that the increased cancer risk emitted from the controlled burns was less than one in 1 million, the level at which EPA believes they are a concern.

“Had the spill of oil continued, the results of these measurements would have been used by the Unified Command to determine if burning should continue,” EPA said. “However, the well was capped on July 15 and the last in-situ burn occurred on July 19. Consequently, these results are most useful to inform and improve the agency’s response to respond to future oil spills.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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