A day after the Environmental Protection Agency gave BP 72 hours to start using a "less toxic" dispersant to help control the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the agency told ABC News today it may allow BP to keep using the same chemicals.
The EPA on Thursday gave BP 24 hours to find a better dispersant and 72 hours to begin using it.
The EPA said testing had determined that the use of the dispersant Corexit had killed up to 25 percent of all organisms living at 500 feet below the surface in areas where the dispersant was used.
A top BP executive defended the use of Corexit on "Good Morning America" today.
"The EPA had to approve and the Unified Command and the Coast Guard had to approve the use of that product. It is approved and in fact we've been using it and it has been effective," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told "Good Morning America" today. "It's making a difference in this fight to try and keep this stuff from coming to shore."
Though Suttles said BP will continue to search for a better alternative, he said "right now we cannot identify another product that is available that's better than [dispersant] Corexit."
EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy told ABC News today, "It's not that Corexit is banned. It's not that they have to stop using it because they're using it right now. But it's just that they need to switch over."
If the 72-hour window passes without a suitable alternative found, the EPA will demand BP prove it investigated a number of alternatives and explain why they were not chosen, according to Thursday's statement. Beyond that, the EPA would not comment on consequences of a missed deadline.
EPA made its demand for a "less toxic" dispersant Thursday after criticism grew over the effects of Corexit.
"Any living organism that contacts this stuff, particularly the mixture of dispersant and oil, is at significant risk of acute mortality," said marine biologist Rick Steiner.
Suttles said he had not seen any evidence of the toll the dispersant is taking on marine life, he admitted that using the chemicals involves "tradeoffs."
"I haven't seen any evidence to show that," Suttles said today. "We're doing extensive monitoring as is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EPA."
BP has already dumped 700,000 gallons of the dispersant into the sea, and prior to the EPA's announcement, the company defended its use of Corexit after questions were raised about a corporate connection between BP and Nalco, the maker of the product.
In a statement to ABC News Thursday, BP called the chemical "one of the most well-studied dispersants" and said it chose Corexit in part because it could "get a sufficient supply to meet our needs on short notice."
In a fresh setback to containing the underwater catastrophe, BP said today that an insertion tube in the broken well was siphoning less than half of the oil the company had claimed.
The oil company had been claiming to be sucking up 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the site, but only 2,200 barrels had been captured from the surging leak on Thursday, BP said today.
"The flow changes, it's not constant," said BP spokesman John Curry.