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Oil Dispersant Maker Asks Judge to Toss Claims

Mon, 07/16/2012 - 5:59am
MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The manufacturer of a chemical dispersant used to fight the 2010 BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico asked a federal judge Friday to dismiss all claims against the company over the government's use of its product.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier didn't immediately rule after hearing Illinois-based Nalco Co.'s argument that it isn't liable for how the federal government used Corexit to break up oil gushing from BP's blown-out well.

Nalco attorney Mary Rose Alexander said the company did nothing more than supply the government with the dispersant and had no control over where it was used or in what amounts.

"Nalco didn't refuse the federal government's call for help out of fear of liability. It said, 'Yes,'" Alexander told the judge.

Plaintiffs' attorney Robin Greenwald countered that Nalco isn't legally immune from claims it supplied a "defective product" that wasn't safe to use in the Gulf. Greenwald accused Nalco of trying to distort the nature of the plaintiffs' claims.

"We are not alleging that the government was wrong and that the liability here rests in the decision to use Corexit," she said.

More than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant were used in responding to the spill. It was last used four days after BP capped the well in June 2010.

A 2010 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Corexit, when mixed with oil, is no more toxic to aquatic life than oil alone. But congressional investigators have claimed the Coast Guard defied a federal directive to use the chemical sparingly and routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of Corexit per day.

Barbier said the government likely would have been second-guessed if it didn't use dispersants at all or used them in smaller quantities.

"This is obviously a judgment call that the government makes in response to a massive catastrophe like this. They're trying to prevent a greater harm, is what I'm saying," Barbier said. "The point is, the government made those decisions, not Nalco."

Greenwald said the plaintiffs aren't asking the judge to second-guess the government in its use of Corexit.

"It's a products-liability action for creating a defective product," she said of the claims.

The federal government isn't named as a defendant in the batch of claims that Nalco wants Barbier to dismiss. Other companies that sprayed dispersants have been sued and joined in Nalco's request.

Most of the plaintiffs suing Nalco are cleanup workers and residents who live near the coast and claim they were exposed to hazardous chemicals.

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