EPA Response to BP Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Questions and Answers about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast
In response to the BP oil spill, EPA monitored air, water, sediment, and waste generated by the cleanup operations. Ongoing response and restoration efforts are posted to RestoreTheGulf.gov.
While emergency response data collection has ended, results continue to be available on this site. Any new data will continue to be posted to this site, and data will continue to be available here for the foreseeable future.
Much of the content of this site continues to be available for historical and information purposes, but we are no longer updating these pages on a regular basis.
On this page:
- Dispersant Use in BP Oil Spill
- EPA's Response
- Air Quality Concerns
- Drinking Water
- What do I do for more information?
- Questions and Answers on dispersants
- Statement on dispersant use
- EPA's Dispersant Monitoring and Assessment Directive for Subsurface Dispersant Application
- More on dispersant use in BP oil spill
- What sampling did EPA do along the beaches?
- What did EPA do to protect people and the environment along the Gulf Coast from risks associated with the BP Oil Spill?
- How did EPA’s role evolve?
- Where can I see data?
- How often will there be new data?
- How did the declaration of nationally significant spill help us?
- Why wasn't EPA the lead for this environmental disaster?
- Did EPA have sufficient financial resources to fund response efforts?
- I've heard that EPA would stop the burning of oil if elevated levels of pollution occur? When would EPA stop the burning?
- How would I have known if the air/water around me was safe?
- How were commercial fisheries regulated to ensure our food is okay?
- Was Gulf of Mexico seafood safe to eat?
What sampling did EPA do along the beaches?
EPA collected and analyzed water and sediment samples to help states and other federal agencies understand the immediate and long-term impacts of oil contamination along the Gulf coast and to ensure that residents in affected areas had access to information about the quality of their water. The results and the interpretation of all data collected by EPA is posted to www.epa.gov/bpspill as often as it is available.
Water and sediment samples were taken prior to oil reaching the area to determine water quality and sediment conditions that are typical of selected bays and beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. That data was used to supplement existing data generated from previous water quality surveys conducted by states, EPA, and others.
Water sampling continued once oil reached the shore; periodic samples were also collected to document water quality changes. Other state and federal agencies made beach closure and seafood harvesting and consumption determinations, but the data generated by EPA assisted in their evaluations.
What did EPA do to protect people and the environment along the Gulf Coast from risks associated with the BP Oil Spill?
EPA conducted real time monitoring and sampling to study the environmental and health conditions in the Gulf.
EPA monitored the air for any chemicals or compounds that may be in the air as a result of the oil spill or from the controlled burn to manage the spill. We monitored the air in real time for particulate matter and took more specific chemical measurements for volatile organic compounds that required lab analysis. Real time monitoring let us know of any immediate risks to human health and the environment, and told us where we need to focus our sampling efforts.
We sampled the water to look at impacts from the oil spill on the Gulf ecosystem and sampled surface water to assess water safety for recreational use.
We sampled the air, water and coastal sediment to assess the impact of the oil spill on the affected ecosystems. Samples can take time to process, usually about 3-4 days. Sampling data provided specific information about the pollutants and were used to help guide the response and cleanup.
How did EPA’s role evolve?
EPA worked with local, state and federal response partners to monitor the air, water and sediment along the Gulf Coast. Our goal was to continue to ensure that the air, water and sediment were monitored carefully to protect human health and the environment.
Please see our “Waste FAQs” on this page for more information on how EPA assisted in cleanup operations.
During emergency situations the agency works to expedite this process as much as possible. As soon as EPA has the results ready we posted them for the public on this site. EPA also coordinated with the data collection efforts of Gulf Coast states. Up to date air quality information (particulate matter and ozone) for the Gulf coast states was also made available to the public through EPA’s National Air Now program.
How often was new data posted?
It depends on the type of data. As noted above, real time particulate matter data was made available for public viewing at http://gulfcoast.airnowtech.org. Data requiring lab analyses was posted as soon as possible after analysis was completed.
What does it mean when a result is listed as "ND?"
ND (non-detect) indicates that the pollutant that the monitoring equipment was sampling for was either not detected or that the levels were too low to reliably determine the concentration.
How did the declaration of nationally significant spill help us?
Once designated a Spill of National Significance, the Federal Government is able to designate greater resources to the incident, its cleanup and its recovery.
Why wasn't EPA the lead for this environmental disaster?
Typically for off shore environmental incidents the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency for a response. EPA responded to this disaster as part of the Administration’s Unified Command.
Did EPA have sufficient financial resources to fund response efforts?
As the responsible party, BP is required (by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act) to fund the cost of the response and cleanup operations. The administration was aggressive in its response and used all of its available resources.
I’ve heard that EPA would stop the burning of oil if elevated levels of pollution occur? When would EPA stop the burning?
EPA consistently monitored the air quality and any emissions from burning oil. If elevated levels of harmful air pollution were detected, EPA was prepared to take any and all appropriate steps to protect public health.
How would I know if the air/water around me is safe?
The results of EPA’s sampling efforts were posted at www.epa.gov/bpspill and made recommendations for the public to take based upon the results of our environmental monitoring. Residents and tourists were referred to state and local information for beach conditions in their area.
If you would like to report odors that that may be associated with the oil spill, please call 1-866-448-5816.
How were commercial fisheries regulated to ensure our food is okay?
FDA operates a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products under the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Public Health Service Act, and related regulations. The FDA program includes research, inspection, compliance, enforcement, outreach and the development of regulations and industry guidance.
NOAA has the authority to close Federal waters to prevent harvesting and states have the authority to close waters within the state 3-mile limit. FDA worked with both NOAA and the states to monitor the situation and ensure that appropriate closures were in place as needed. If, despite these steps, adulterated seafood had been found on the market, both FDA and the states have the authority to seize such product.
Was Gulf of Mexico seafood safe to eat?
Louisiana had closed some areas to seafood harvesting based on the movement and direction of the oil. The US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitored the situation with the states and with NOAA and would notify the public if any problems were detected with the shrimp or other seafood products in the area. On June 4, 2010 FDA stated "There is no reason to believe that any contaminated product has made its way to the market."
- The FDA maintains a Q & A page on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill
- Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries posts up to date information on closures
- Fishing in Alabama
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission oil spill response
- Mississippi Department of Marine Resources oil spill response
- Texas Parks and Wildlife oil spill response
- When did EPA start monitoring air quality in the Gulf states?
- Why is EPA monitoring and sampling the air?
- What is particulate matter?
- Why is burning the oil slick a good idea?
- I live close to the Gulf Coast, what will I notice?
- Is the odor bad for my health?
- What is causing the odor?
- What is EPA doing to monitor the air?
When did EPA start monitoring air quality in the Gulf states?
EPA responders were on the ground with portable monitoring devices starting on April 28, 2010. EPA’s twin engine aircraft, ASPECT, was deployed on April 29, 2010 to collect air sampling data and provide aerial photographs of the migrating oil slick. EPA began oil spill specific air monitoring from our TAGA buses on April 30, 2010.
We began water sampling on April 30, 2010. Results from water sampling are typically available four days after sample collection. We began coastal sediment sampling on April 30, 2010. Results from sediment sampling are typically available several days after sample collection. EPA coordinated closely with the air monitoring efforts ongoing in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Why did EPA monitor and sample the air?
EPA sampled the air for vapors that may evaporate from the water/oil mixture in the Gulf as well as for particulate matter that may have resulted from the smoke generated by the controlled burns. We tracked the levels of particulate matter and Volatile Organic Compounds chemicals closely.
What is particulate matter?
Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or PM, is a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA screened for PM 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. We did not monitor for PM larger than 10 micrometers because this particle size is generally too large to inhale.
Why was burning the oil slick a good idea?
Controlled burning is one of several techniques that may be used to minimize the consequences of an oil spill by consuming the oil and removing it from the water.
Controlled burn operations did not affect other response activities such as on-water skimming, dispersant application, and subsurface wellhead intervention operations. No populated areas were expected to be affected by the burn operations and there are no anticipated impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles.
Weather, wind, and water conditions were considered and safe distances were adhered to at all times. Before specially-trained crews ignited the oil, the team performed pre-ignition checks that included communications and safe equipment position verification. The oil was monitored throughout the burn. If any concerns arose, the burn could be immediately terminated.
Was the odor bad for my health?
This odor may cause symptoms such as headaches or nausea. For your own comfort, limiting exposure to the odor by staying indoors was recommended. Further recommendations were to close windows and doors, turn your air conditioner on and set it to a recirculation mode. View more information about odors from the spill.
What caused the odor?
The odor contained the same chemicals as the gas you use to fill your car. These chemicals are classified as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), specifically: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and naphthalene. These VOCs can be smelled at levels well below those that would cause health problems. View more information about odors from the spill.
- EPA brought in two mobile air monitoring buses equipped with Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzers, or TAGAs, for instant-result air monitoring. The TAGA Vans monitored the odors as well as other volatile compounds.
- EPA responders on the ground had portable equipment that can detect any spikes in the levels of odor-causing compounds.
- EPA’s twin engine aircraft, ASPECT, was also deployed to collect air sampling data, specifically tasked to detect the presence of increased odors and sulfur dioxide resulting from the oil spill.
- The state of Louisiana put additional monitors in place to further monitor the chemical levels in the air.
- The Gulf Coast states have permanent stationary air monitors that are working to monitor general air quality. During the response to the BP Spill, these monitoring stations would have detect possible emissions of pollution from the fires associated with burning off the oil spill.
- Was / is my water safe to drink?
- Would my private well be impacted by the oil spill?
- How would I know if my water isn't safe to drink?
- My water tastes or smells different. What should I do?
How would I know if my water isn't safe to drink?
Your water supplier must notify you by newspaper, mail, radio, TV, or hand-delivery if your water doesn't meet EPA or state standards or if there is a waterborne disease emergency. The notice will describe any precautions you need to take, such as boiling your water. Follow the advice of your water supplier if you ever receive such a notice.
My water tastes or smells different. What should I do?
If you have any concerns about your water, you should contact your water supplier. The oil spill was not expected to affect drinking water. If your water supply does not meet EPA or state standards your water supplier must notify you by newspaper, mail, radio, TV, or hand-delivery.
Why did EPA sample and monitor the water?
EPA was tracking the prevalence of potentially harmful chemicals in the water as a result of this spill to determine the level of risk posed to fish and other wildlife. While these chemicals can impact ecosystems, drinking water supplies were not expected to be affected.
The oil itself can cause direct effects on fish and wildlife, for example when it coats the feathers of waterfowl and other types of birds. In addition, other chemical compounds can have detrimental effects. Monitoring information allowed EPA to estimate the amount of these compounds that may reach ecological systems. When combined with available information on the toxicity of these compounds, EPA scientists can estimate the likely magnitude of effects on fish, wildlife, and human health.
More on water monitoring and sampling
- What kind of waste is being generated as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil release?
- When oil is collected from the water in the Gulf of Mexico, what happens to it? How is it disposed of or treated?
- What does BP do with oil that comes ashore or contaminates containment equipment (i.e. boom)? And what is done with the oiled material that occurs on-shore or as a result of the cleanup?
- If tests of oily wastes collected from the Gulf oil spill show hazardous characteristics, how will they be handled?
- How were landfills chosen to receive waste from the Gulf oil spill?
- How were staging areas chosen?
- Where are the staging areas, landfills and disposal facilities for waste?
- How and where are vessels decontaminated?
- What is the role of state governments in the management of oil waste in the Gulf oil spill?
- What is EPA’s oversight role of BP’s efforts to clean up the oily waste on beaches and the shoreline?
- Is the Directive being implemented? How will it be enforced?
- Is the waste being tested? And by whom? What kind of tests are being done? Will the results of tests be posted or available to the public?
- Where is waste collected from the Gulf oil spill response being stored and disposed and in what amounts?
- What kind of outreach is being done to communities receiving oily waste in their landfills?
- How are solid waste landfills designed and regulated?
- Is waste information being tracked?
- Will there be any issues of oil from waste leaching from landfills? What about landfills in a flood plain? Or close to the coast? Or what if a hurricane comes?
- How are contaminated booms managed? Are they sent to landfills?
- Are landfills in the Gulf region being filled up with waste from the Gulf oil spill? Do these landfills have the capacity to accept this waste?
Solid wastes, recovered oil, oily fluids, oiled debris and other waste and recyclable materials collected during the Deepwater Horizon response are being handled safely and in accordance with existing federal, state and local regulations. The operations are being conducted by BP and contractors hired by BP. To assure that wastes are handled properly, waste management plans have been prepared and have been reviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the involved states. The US Coast Guard, in consultation with EPA, formalized the implementation of the waste management plans through a directive. The directive is meant to hold BP accountable for properly carrying out the plans. The waste plans may be revised from time to time to adjust to changing needs and circumstances of the spill response.
What kind of waste is being generated as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil release?
The waste is generally classified into three categories: recyclables, municipal trash and crude oil-contaminated (oiled) waste. The recyclables and municipal trash come primarily from office buildings where BP and the Unified Command and Incident Command Posts are located, supply distribution warehouses and from response equipment and personnel field mobilization sites. Typical operations that result in crude oil-contaminated waste include shoreline cleanup, skimming, booming, and decontamination of vessels or equipment. The oiled waste may be solids or liquids. The most common waste comes from three sources: shoreline cleanup; oil containment, capture and skimming operations; and vessel and other decontamination operations.
- From shoreline cleanup: tar balls, oiled vegetation, oiled sand, oiled debris, dead wildlife, used personal protective equipment (PPE) and disposal equipment.
- From oil containment, capture and skimming operations: oil and oily water, oiled debris and sorbent materials.
- From vessel and other decontamination operations: oily water, oiled sorbent materials and PPE.
When oil is collected from the water in the Gulf of Mexico, what happens to it? How is it disposed of or treated?
Oil that can be easily separated from water is being recovered as a product and either sent to a refinery or sent to an approved facility where it is burned for its energy content in accordance with applicable Federal, State, and local laws . Oily water that is separated from the recovered oil is being sent to facilities permitted to manage liquid wastes (either deep well injection facilities or waste water treatment facilities).
The approved waste plans requires BP to recover, reuse or recycle as many of the materials collected during cleanup operations, as practicable and in accordance with applicable Federal, State, and local laws.
What does BP do with oil that comes ashore or contaminates containment equipment (i.e. boom)? And what is done with the oiled material that occurs on-shore or as a result of the cleanup?
Waste is collected on the shoreline, and is sampled, tested or otherwise characterized to determine proper handling and management/disposal requirements. Oil-free waste is placed in containers and sent directly to a landfill. Weathered oil and other wastes containing oil are brought to waste staging areas. At the staging areas, liquid wastes are placed in containers designed for the transport of liquid wastes and sent to facilities permitted to manage liquid wastes, either deep well injection facilities or waste water treatment facilities. Solid wastes are sent to permitted landfills.
When oil cannot be easily separated from containment and absorbent booms, personal protective equipment, seaweed or vegetation, these oil-contaminated materials are managed as wastes and sent to an appropriate landfill for disposal.
The approved waste directive requires BP to recover, reuse or recycle as many of the materials collected during cleanup operations, as practicable and in accordance with applicable Federal, State, and local laws. The primary focus has been to collect, contain and remove oil contaminated materials as quickly as possible. Increased reuse and recycling should become more feasible as time progresses with spill cleanup activities and as an understanding of the materials increases.
All staging areas must have spill containment measures in place to prevent spills from impacting the environment.
Certain wastes coming into the staging areas may be identified as recyclable or available to use for energy recovery. When this is the case, such wastes would be taken to the approved facility for recycling or energy recovery.
If tests of oily wastes collected from the Gulf oil spill show hazardous characteristics, how will they be handled?
Through a Directive issued by the Coast Guard in consultation with EPA, BP is required to sample and test oily waste to determine if samples exhibit any of several hazardous characteristics. In addition, EPA is independently sampling and testing waste using the same tests for hazardous characteristics. To date, none of the results from these tests have found that the oily waste samples exhibit hazardous characteristics. If any oily waste samples are found to exhibit hazardous characteristics, EPA will advise the U.S. Coast Guard, as Federal On Scene Coordinator for the Gulf oil spill response, that they direct BP to dispose of the waste in a facility appropriately designed and permitted to manage hazardous waste.
How were landfills chosen to receive waste from the Gulf oil spill?
Solid waste landfills are state-permitted waste management facilities. EPA in coordination with state waste management authorities worked with BP to identify landfills in the Gulf region that had the appropriate design criteria and that were legally permitted to receive the different types of waste generated from the spill. EPA and the States also reviewed the compliance history of each facility. EPA is continuing to work in coordination with the States during the oversight of this response and will conduct site visits of landfills twice a month to complement state oversight activities of landfill operations. Information on EPA’s visits to these landfills, including a map of their locations, will be posted on the EPA website
In addition, EPA will continue to work with States to address any complaints regarding the management of waste at any landfills. If any landfill mismanages waste, the waste directive can be used to remove the landfills from receiving any waste.
How were staging areas chosen?
States have and continue to play an integral role in decisions regarding the management of wastes from the Gulf oil spill. States worked with BP, Coast Guard and EPA to identify suitable staging sites for the sorting, collection and packaging of waste. A map showing the location of the waste staging areas is available on the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/waste.html. EPA is conducting assessments at each staging area once per week.
Where are the staging areas, landfills and disposal facilities for waste?
Staging areas, landfills and disposal facilities that are approved for use are specifically listed in the Federal On Scene Coordinator approved waste management plans, and are posted on the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/waste.html#plans. Maps of the landfills and staging areas managing waste from the Gulf oil spill will be posted on the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/waste.html.
How and where are vessels decontaminated?
Because boats working on oil containment or traveling through oil in the Gulf waters sometimes pick up an oil sheen or residual oil on the outside, they must be washed (decontaminated) so they don’t transfer oil to clean waters near the shoreline or in boat harbors. Large, incoming commercial vessels are decontaminated twice: once offshore and a second time at inshore locations. Near-shore decontamination sites also are set up for response vessels, including those in the Vessels of Opportunity program (a program to provide local boat operators an opportunity to assist with response activities. For more information on the Vessels of Opportunity program. Additional onshore sites are available to decontaminate various materials used in collecting and containing oil, such as skimmers and booms.
What is the role of state governments in the management of oil waste in the Gulf oil spill?
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida all operate solid waste programs that comply with EPA minimum criteria and implement EPA authorized hazardous waste programs and are thus responsible for creating and administering waste management programs within their states. These states are the primary waste management authorities for wastes being collected as part of the Gulf oil spill response. This includes issuing state permits and conducting inspections of waste facilities.
What is EPA’s oversight role of BP’s efforts to clean up the oily waste on beaches and the shoreline?
Although BP has responsibility for the cleanup of the oil spill, EPA and the states are committed to monitoring BP’s waste management activities and taking actions, as necessary, to ensure that the waste is safely and properly managed. After development of the waste management plans, it was determined that further oversight and more specific requirements were needed. The Coast Guard and EPA, with input from the states, therefore issued a Directive to BP on waste management on June 29, 2010.
The Directive mandates BP’s compliance with waste management plans and impose additional, more specific waste and debris handling, sampling and disposal requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard and EPA, in consultation with the states, will hold BP accountable for complying with the Directive, which includes implementing the approved waste management plans.
The Directive creates enforceable requirements, implementation procedures and oversight plans related to BP’s handling of waste materials. Among other things, the Directive:
- Provides guidelines for community engagement activities and transparency requirements on information regarding the proper management of liquid and solid wastes;
- Provides EPA and state agency access to facilities or any location where waste is temporarily or permanently stored by BP (access includes allowing the agencies to perform any activities necessary, such as assessments, sampling or inspections);
- Requires compliance by BP with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations and to ensure that all facilities where waste is located or placed have obtained all permits and approvals necessary under such laws and regulations; and
- Requires BP to submit to EPA and the Coast Guard specific plans, waste reports and tracking systems for liquid and solid waste, and to comply with those plans and reporting and tracking systems.
EPA is also visiting each waste staging area once per week and each landfill receiving waste from the Gulf oil spill cleanup two times per month. States are also regularly inspecting staging areas and landfills. EPA is also sampling and testing waste from staging areas to determine if samples exhibit any of several hazardous characteristics. To date, none of the results from these tests have found that the oily waste samples exhibit hazardous characteristics. If any oily waste samples are found to exhibit hazardous characteristics, EPA will advise the U.S. Coast Guard, as Federal On Scene Coordinator for the Gulf oil spill response, that they direct BP to dispose of the waste in a facility appropriately designed and permitted to manage hazardous waste.
States have and continue to play an integral role in decisions regarding the management of wastes from the Gulf oil spill. States worked with BP, Coast Guard and EPA to identify suitable sites and facilities for the management of waste. EPA reviewed the proposed sites, looking at the compliance history of each and any community issues. States also worked with EPA on reviewing and commenting on the approved waste management plans that detail how BP will collect, sample and dispose of waste. The approved waste management plans are available on the EPA web site.
Is the Directive being implemented? How will it be enforced?
BP is implementing the Waste Management Plans as required under the Directive. The
Directives are enforceable orders under Section 311 of the Clean Water Act. In addition, BP is currently finalizing the Waste Tracking/Reporting Plan and the Community Outreach Plan called for by the Directive.
Is the waste being tested? And by whom? What kind of tests are being done? Will the results of tests be posted or available to the public?
BP is required to test oily waste from the Gulf oil spill response using three tests. BP is required to use the Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) to test for volatiles, semivolatiles and metals. In addition, BP is required to use a Paint Filter Liquids Test to determine if solid wastes have liquid content. Lastly, liquid waste samples will be subjected to an ignitability test.
In addition, EPA is also collecting independent samples of waste that have been collected at waste staging areas. EPA is testing these samples using the same three tests described above. EPA is posting the results of these tests on the waste page of this website.
Where is waste collected from the Gulf oil spill response being stored and disposed and in what amounts?
Wastes are being collected in various areas and stored in staging areas and then sent to appropriately permitted waste management disposal facilities. Information on the locations of staging areas and disposal facilities and on the quantities of waste managed is available on the BP website at: http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=9034343&contentId=7063466
What kind of outreach is being done to communities receiving oily waste in their landfills?
EPA is committed to providing communities impacted by the Gulf oil spill with timely and useful information about the ongoing cleanup effort. As part of this commitment, EPA, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, has issued two Directives requiring BP to develop and implement a plan to track and report on waste management. The plan is to include information on the quantities and types of waste managed temporarily or permanently at any facility or location. Under the Directives, BP is required to publicly post this information. In addition, the Directives require BP to develop and implement a community outreach plan, which EPA is currently reviewing. The plan specifically requires BP to address the steps they have taken to minimize the impacts of waste management on surrounding communities. EPA plans to put BP’s Waste Tracking Plan and Community Outreach Plan on its Web site in the near future. Separately, EPA had led extensive outreach to Gulf communities. EPA has held community meetings, attended a visit to waste staging area with Gulf community NGOs, participated in a questions and answers at churches, and continues to distribute information on waste management to local communities.
How are solid waste landfills designed and regulated?
Municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) must comply with the federal regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and with any additional state regulatory requirements. States may have regulations that are more stringent or more comprehensive than Federal standards and therefore must be consulted in the disposal process. Below is a list of some of the Federal MSWLF requirements that apply to landfills that receive household waste or conditionally exempt small quantity generator hazardous waste along with other household wastes.
- Location restrictions— these restrictions ensure that landfills are built in suitable geological areas away from faults, wetlands, flood plains, or other restricted areas.
- Composite liners requirements—these include placing a flexible membrane
(geomembrane) in the landfill which overlays two feet of compacted clay soil lining the bottom and sides of the landfill. This protects groundwater and the underlying soil from leachate releases.
- Leachate collection and removal systems—these systems sit on top of the composite liner and remove leachate from the landfill for treatment and disposal.
- Operating practices—requirements that include covering waste frequently with several inches of soil help reduce odor; control litter, insects, and rodents; and protect public health.
- Groundwater monitoring requirements—requires testing groundwater wells to determine whether waste materials have escaped from the landfill.
- Closure and postclosure care requirements—include covering landfills and providing long-term care of closed landfills.
- Corrective action provisions—require implementation of procedures for control and clean up of landfill releases and achieves groundwater protection standards.
- Financial assurance—provides funding for environmental protection during and after landfill closure (i.e., closure and postclosure care).
Additional information about landfills is available on EPA's website at:
Is waste information being tracked?
The Directive issued to BP by the U.S. Coast Guard, in consultation with EPA, requires BP to implement a waste tracking system/reporting plan to include, but not be limited to:
- Development of a uniform tracking system covering all affected states for recoverable product and liquid solid wastes, specifying quantity or volume handled at each location where such product or waste is temporarily (e.g. staging area) or permanently located (e.g. disposal site, recovery facility);
- Reporting of such information to EPA on a daily basis.
- On-line posting of flow charts showing, for each category of recoverable products, and liquids and solid wastes, how such products or wastes are handled and locations where such products or wastes are temporarily (e.g. staging areas) or permanently located (e.g. disposal sites, recovery facilities), and updated within 24 hours of any changes.
Will there be any issues of oil from waste leaching from landfills? What about landfills in a flood plain? Or close to the coast? Or what if a hurricane comes?
Under the Directives issued to BP, oily solid waste must only be sent to state regulated landfills that are specifically permitted to receive such wastes. These landfills must comply with the federal regulations within Subtitle D of the RCRA and additional state regulations, which include design requirements to prevent these wastes from contaminating groundwater.
In the event of a storm or hurricane that threatens waste collection and disposal operations, the U.S. Coast Guard, as the Federal On Scene Coordinator for the Gulf oil spill response, would require BP to cease operations and secure collected wastes. BP will continue to be responsible for any debris contaminated by BP oil. Landfill operators in the area would also implement steps to secure their facilities. These landfills have been subjected to many hurricanes along the coast with few problems. Learn more about landfills.
How are contaminated booms managed? Are they sent to landfills?
There are two types of booms being used: sorbent boom and barrier boom. While barrier boom can be decontaminated and reused, sorbent boom generally is not re-useable. The job of sorbent boom is not to block the oil, but rather to absorb it, so that it can be removed from the water along with the boom itself. Techniques are used at staging areas to remove oil to the maximum extent possible from booms. Used sorbent booms may be either sent to permitted landfills for disposal or sent to an appropriate facility to be burned as fuel. Barrier boom is intended to channel the oil into areas where it can be skimmed. While barrier boom is intended to be reused, it may at times become damaged to the point that it must be disposed of in a landfill.
Are landfills in the Gulf region being filled up with waste from the Gulf oil spill? Do these landfills have the capacity to accept this waste?
Solid waste landfills are state-permitted waste management facilities. Based on data provided to EPA from the Gulf states, the landfills receiving waste from the Gulf oil spill have abundant capacity to handle the waste volumes expected from this response. We do not expect that the addition of waste from the Gulf oil spill will significantly shorten the expected life-span of these landfills. Generally, the oily waste (approximately 94% of the total oily waste volume) that is being disposed in landfills represents less than 7% of the total daily waste accepted by these landfills. At one of the landfills receiving oily waste, the oily waste represents 8-12% of the total daily waste accepted at this landfill.
- How can I help?
- How can I report an oil sighting?
- What is the website for environmental data? What information will I find there?
- Where can I find more information?
How can I help?
At this stage the federal government and BP are leading response efforts. Follow up to date information about restoration work at Restore The Gulf.
Where can I find environmental data? What information will I find there?
EPA will continue to post new environmental information and data as it becomes available through our responders and equipment on the EPA website. We're posting air data, water data, and sediment data.
Where can I find more information?
The best resources to use at this time will be found at:
Joint Federal Website about the BP Oil Spill
NOAA Office of Response and Restoration
NASA Satellite Imagery Keeping Eye on the Gulf Oil Spill
- RestoreTheGulf.gov: official federal government site for spill response and recovery
Other federal government information: