TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called for a federal investigation Monday of BP's use of chemicals to break down oil as it spread across the Gulf of Mexico.
He called it a "toxic brew" that might result in greater environmental troubles than if the oil had been allowed to sit on the surface until it was collected.
The Democratic senator also introduced a bill to require companies to disclose chemicals used in future oil spill cleanups.
"The real potential danger still lurks because there is a toxic brew deep beneath the surface that we cannot see," Nelson said at a news conference in his Tampa office Monday morning.
BP used up to 15,000 gallons of chemicals a day in its recovery effort. The dispersants helped clear the surface of oil, leaving traces of chemical-drenched oil matter in the water column.
At stake is the health of the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem, and, in turn, the nation's fishing industry. Nelson said public perception has already ruled gulf seafood unsafe. He said he ordered grouper while out Sunday night, but observed he was the only person in the restaurant to ask for the fish.
Bob Weisberg, a professor at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, joined Nelson at the news conference. Researchers will conduct a nine-day mission to collect oil samples next week, the university's third voyage related to the oil spill.
"We have not had a situation like this before, so we are really operating out of ignorance," Weisberg said.
Some dispersant-oil blends can be less toxic than the oil itself, while others are more harmful, according to test results released Monday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
"We have said all along that the use of dispersant presents environmental tradeoffs, which is why we took steps to ensure other response efforts were prioritized above dispersant use and to dramatically cut dispersant use," EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a prepared statement.
Nelson criticized the Obama administration's initial reaction to the spill, which he said was stalled by a "lack of decisionmaking."
Nelson also admonished the Florida Legislature for refusing to take a vote on Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed constitutional amendment on oil drilling last month.
"They were taking a stick and sticking it in the eye of the people of Florida," he said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.