Safety Concerns Surround Gulf Seafood

The 2010 blowout in the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a total of 4.9 million barrels of crude oil being released into surrounding waters over nearly three months. Now, over a year later, there are new health concerns about the condition of the seafood pulled from the Gulf.

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman and Gina Solomon of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conducted a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives that found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed potentially dangerous levels of contaminants in seafood after the BP oil spill by using calculations based on outdated science.

The study looked at the way the FDA evaluates contaminants in seafood, and sought to independently evaluate any health threats. After comparing the FDA’s method to that of other agencies and up-to-date literature, Rotkin-Ellman said that there were significant differences. They concluded that the FDA needed to rectify how it assessed the threat of chemical contaminants.

For instance the Gulf seafood posed an elevated cancer risk when looking solely at pregnant women and children. “There are reasons to be concerned, specifically with pregnant women and children,” Rotkin-Ellman says. “We recommend that these groups reduce their shellfish consumption from the Gulf of Mexico.”

In a related blog post, Rotkin-Ellman writes that NRDC filed a petition on Wednesday, October 12, “demanding that the agency recognize the hazards posed by PAHs in seafood and set a health protective standard.” PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are cancer-causing and seafood in the Gulf was found to contain PAH at levels more than 10,000 times what is deemed safe by NRDC.

She continues: “According to our calculations, the risk of cancer associated with eating Gulf shellfish contaminated at the levels FDA says is safe could be as high as 20,000 in a million. Put another way, this means that if 1,000 pregnant women (and their children) ate Gulf seafood contaminated at the levels FDA said are safe, 20 of the children born to them would be at significant risk of cancer from the contamination. This is not public health protection. Major reforms are needed at FDA to better safeguard our food supply.”

And concern is not limited to Gulf of Mexico shellfish, but shellfish in general. Inadequate testing of seafood has become widespread. “We are increasingly concerned about contaminants in food,” Rotkin-Ellman said. “We really need to see the Food and Drug Administration step up to the plate and assess and regulate those contaminants.”