Feds Lean on BP Over Trash Disposal

The Coast Guard and EPA are setting new standards for how BP and its contractors should test and track the garbage generated by the ongoing spill.

The Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency shored up their oversight of BP's work to clean up the oil-soaked Gulf Coast on Thursday, setting new standards for how the company and its contractors should test and track the garbage generated by the ongoing spill.

BP PLC has hired private contractors to haul away thousands of tons of polluted sand, crude-coated boom and other refuse washing ashore from the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

So far the disaster has generated more than 3,913 tons of solid waste, which is being hauled to landfills in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Companies brought on to dispose of the material say the debris is being handled professionally and carefully, but a spot check by The Associated Press last week found clean-up procedures along the Gulf coast's northern reaches were haphazard at best.

In Alabama's Gulf State Park, a mound of oily sand was spotted in an uncovered waste container flanked by a pooling brown puddle, while in Orange Beach, a leaky truck piled with tar balls and oil-smeared protective gear left a pollution trail of its own.

A senior EPA official said Thursday no specific concerns prompted the directive but that it would make existing waste disposal plans federally enforceable.

"We felt that this is a unique and catastrophic event and we felt it should have the highest level of oversight and accountability," said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "This is part of our ongoing process to hold BP accountable."

Specific guidelines were outlined in letters sent to BP for how the refuse should be managed. The letters also mandated more public outreach to communities near the staging areas or landfills, Stanislaus said.

BP America spokesman Daren Beaudo said the company had not yet received the directive, so could not immediately comment.

Since May, BP has been testing samples of the oil, mousse and tar patties collecting along the shoreline for volatile organic compounds, metals, diesel and other chemicals. The EPA will start taking its own independent samples of the debris this week in the marshes and tidal flats and will ramp up inspections, Stanislaus said.

"We've been fingerprinting that oil all along, but if we have more people taking additional samples that is great," said Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which is monitoring waste disposal in landfills throughout the state.

Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest trash hauler, was hired by BP to dispose of the mess washing ashore in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

"As in all of our operations including the Gulf response effort, Waste Management conducts its contracted activities according to all applicable state, local federal laws and regulations and directives, including this one," said company spokesman Ken Haldin. He said in response to The AP's findings last week that the company would be more careful and have drivers check bins for problems and possibly use larger liners.