Thursday, May 05, 2011

Is Gulf Seafood Safe To Eat? No...

... But if we care about the livelihoods of Gulf fishermen, Gulf restaurant owners, BP executives and employees, and the health of economies that depend on the Gulf seafood industry, we should buy it and eat it anyway.

That's the message I took home from this article:
Seafood At Risk: Dispersed Oil Poses A Long-Term Threat, Scientific American, April 20, 2011

It's been a year since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill left more than 200 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil was bad enough, but it's the dispersant that may drive the nail in the coffin of public trust in the safety of Gulf seafood.

The Oil

Dr. Susan Shaw, marine toxicologist and director at the Marine Environmental Research Institute:
"There is no safe level of exposure to this oil. ... The oil contains carcinogens and mutagens that can damage DNA and cause cancer and other chronic health problems."
But the FDA has to draw a safe-level line somewhere. They're basing that line on:
"The current FDA risk assessment protocol is based on a 176-pound man eating four shrimp a week."
That doesn't account for children or those whose body weights are lower. Is it reasonable to assume that 4 shrimp represent the entire Gulf catch that a 176-pound man, especially one who lives off the Gulf coast, consumes in a week? Or one shrimp per child per week? I don't know, but the lower that consumption level, the more likely Gulf seafood will get the and FDA "All clear."

The Dispersant

There are three problems with the dispersant used to break up the oil.
  1. Dispersant keeps oil in the environment longer. It also makes removing oil from the environment more difficult.

    (One-fifth of juveniles of an endangered species, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, were killed in this accident because they "spawn at the exact time and location that the oil spill occurred.")

  2. "The dispersed oil ends up small enough that it can get in through the gills or be more easily eaten by fish or shrimp, and that could mean that the oil could accumulate more in seafood."

  3. Dispersant ingredients themselves may be toxic. The FDA has decided to test seafood for only one compound in Corexit, a tracer. BP has decided not to release data on the toxicity of the hundreds of other chemicals in Corexit; "these are protected under US law as trade secrets."
Here's Dr. Shaw talking about her experience with the dispersed oil:

There is a benefit from using dispersant:
  1. "BP is economically liable for every barrel spilled; dispersing the oil so that it cannot be collected by skimmers and accounted for, could result in the amount spilled to be underestimated, and smaller payouts by BP.
Susan Shaw:
"There’s an urgency to reopen the fishing areas but I think it’s likely that we’re going to find oil in the food chain."
Indeed, according to Shaw, there is already evidence that crabs have oil in their bodies. And recent studies show that Gulf shrimp contain oil and hydrocarbons.
Photo of seafood sniffer from American Public Media.
"Steve Wilson, chief quality officer for NOAA's Seafood Inspection Program, demonstrates sensory analysis of a sample of shrimp at NOAA's National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula (Courtesy Monica Allen/NOAA)."


Anonymous said...

Who is "in danger" of eating Gulf seafood, i.e. what Gulf seafood is sold around the country?

Bix said...

I don't see the quote you're talking about, "in danger." Who?

It's a pertinent thought, who eats Gulf seafood aside from Gulf residents. I would say we all do in some way since it moves up the food chain. Fishmeal is fed to farmed animals and fish. It's also used as fertilizer.

Laurie Thomas had a great story about bioaccumulation and bats in her recent post:

Canada said...

I love the fish....big and small ones.

Angela and Melinda said...

Much as I would like to support Gulf residents, I will not eat food w/ known toxins. It's like their wanting to get right back out drilling oil--there ought to be (imo) some governmental support to help them segue into, say, production of clean energy (wind, solar, etc.). Am not sure what the food equivalent would be, however.

Perovskia said...

I found this not long ago. Meant to send it to you..