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The type of chemical dispersants BP Plc (BP, BP.LN) is using to break up the oil from a broken pipe deep in the Gulf of Mexico before it reaches the surface came under fire by federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Democrats on the U.S. House Transportation Committee suggested that BP's choice of Corexit was related to corporate ties with Nalco, the chemical's maker. BP America Chief Executive Lamar McKay told the House Transportation Committee he didn't know if BP picked the chemical but said it was "efficient. In that sense it's important, and I think it's working."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D. N.Y) accused McKay of misleading the committee. "If I told you it was BP who decided, why would you use something that's much more toxic and much less effective other than you had a corporate relationship with the manufacturer?"
On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard authorized BP to use the dispersant under water. The chemicals that break up oil traditionally have been used on the surface. The environmental effects of sub-sea deployment are largely unknown. Corexit has been banned in the U.K.
"There are [other chemicals] that EPA measures as more effective on this grade of oil and less toxic," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D, Ore.) told McKay at the hearing. "Why aren't you using those? I'm concerned about what's in the water column here and what we're not seeing."
McKay said he didn't know whether other products were more effective. The chemical is one of 13 on a list of pre-approved chemicals. "If there are better ones to use we will definitely use" them, McKay said.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters late Tuesday she had asked BP to look at other types of dispersants. She said the company had been considering a chemical called Sea Brat No. 4 but hadn't made a decision to switch.
Asked whether the EPA would require BP to switch dispersants, she said, "I don't think we should take that off the table." She also said the agency needed to study how products get on a pre-approved list.
-By Siobhan Hughes, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-6654; email@example.com