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Gulf still loaded with chemicals, but FDA says seafood safe to eat
Ethan A. Huff
Nov 4, 2010
Not even six months after the first reports about the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made headlines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) joined together with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to announce that virtually all Gulf seafood is now safe to eat. Independent tests, however, continue to show that Gulf waters are still highly contaminated, and that many sea creatures are still dying from exposure to both oil and toxic oil dispersant chemicals.
The FDA and NOAA recently made the shocking announcement because of results from federal tests that allegedly found “no detectable residue” of toxic chemicals in the majority of seafood tested. But fishery experts are questioning the legitimacy of the testing methods used, citing the fact that the tests only looked for one chemical component of the Corexit dispersant — dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS) — while ignoring the presence of numerous other toxic chemicals and chemical combinations like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), propanols, and 2-butoxyethanol, that are also highly toxic.
Reuters recently covered a report published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that highlighted the widespread damage caused by PAHs and other dispersant chemicals, and how these chemicals are still harming and killing fish today. Back in May, researchers observed chemical contamination at thousands of feet below sea level — and as far as eight miles from the spill site — and since that time, they say it has most likely spread even further.
“From the time that these observations were made (back in May), there was an extensive release of additional oil and dispersants at the site,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Therefore, the effects on the deep sea ecosystem may be considerably more severe than supported by the observations reported here.”
According to Bob Naman, a chemist cited in a recent Al Jazeera piece on the dangers of oil dispersants, chemical components of oil dispersants tend to mix with other chemicals to form entirely new chemicals. These new chemicals often escape into the air and come down as rain, harming people, animals, and the environment. And they can also combine in water to create new toxic compounds that contaminate sea life.
Add to that the fact that people living along the Gulf shore are still getting sick from chemical exposure, and it is safe to assume that the creatures living in Gulf waters are also highly contaminated as well..
But neither the FDA nor the NOAA seem all that concerned about any outside information or independent testing that contradicts their own. According to Dr. John Stein from the NOAA, “absolutely none of the samples (taken as part of the federal tests) pose a threat to human health.” And Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, said in a statement that “there is no question Gulf seafood coming to market is safe from oil or dispersant residue.” So apparently the public is expected to just take the agencies’ word for it without question.
Interestingly, the initial testing method the agencies used to assess the safety of Gulf seafood was, get this, a smell test. Stein explained to Reuters that the first round of “sensory testing” involved “trained experts sniff[ing] seafood for evidence of chemical contamination.” So by getting a good whiff of some shrimp and oysters, experts can allegedly determine in full certainty whether or not the creatures are safe for human consumption.
But when the public failed to buy into this “testing” method, the agencies resorted to their “back-up” plan of actually testing the seafood for contaminants. And while the agencies obtained the results that reinforced their findings, such testing methods, as previously mentioned, were flawed to begin with.
Numerous investigations by mainstream media outlets remain skeptical of the recent announcement. And because there is still debate among credible experts over whether Gulf seafood is safe, it is probably best to join the skepticism and simply avoid eating it for now.
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