FDA Should Test Gulf Seafood for Dispersant Contamination

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FDA Should Test Gulf Seafood for Dispersant Contamination

Legal Petition Demands FDA Move Beyond Sensory Test to Look at Chemicals

Washington, DC — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should test seafood from affected Gulf of Mexico areas for chemicals found in dispersant agents deployed in unprecedented volumes on the BP spill, according to a legal petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  No federal agency is currently screening seafood for signs of dispersant contamination in tissue, despite mounting concern about the toxicity of these agents and the effects they may have on the Gulf food chain.

In the weeks following the massive Deepwater Horizon oil blowout, the Obama administration approved application of nearly 2 million gallons of chemical oil dispersants to break up oil slicks.  In addition to surface spraying, what has been termed a “giant experiment” took place when approximately 763,000 gallons of dispersant were injected a mile underwater at the source of the spill, a technique that has never been used before.  At those depths, it is not known how long it will take the dispersants to dissolve.  Alarmingly, there is growing evidence that a suspended oil and dispersant mixture is contaminating an estimated 44,000 square miles of ocean and entering the aquatic food chain.

FDA and other federal agencies have made repeated public statements that Gulf seafood is safe while conceding that there is no current testing for the presence of dispersant chemicals and that there is little scientific certainty about the full effects of dispersants on seafood, and in turn, humans.  For example, a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Assistant Secretary testified that dispersants may bio-accumulate in fish flesh.  Moreover, there is a fear that humans may also be harmed by eating fish dispersant-soaked fish.  One of the principal dispersant chemicals (2-butoxyethanol) is a fetal toxin that breaks down blood cells (much as it breaks up oil droplets), causing blood and kidney disorders.

“FDA cannot say for certain whether the seafood coming out of the oil spill areas in the Gulf is safe,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, who drafted the petition.  “The high levels of uncertainty should dictate a policy of striving to be safe now rather than having to say you’re sorry later.”

The FDA testing regime currently relies upon inspectors sniffing seafood for any telltale smells, limiting chemical analyses to searching for the presence of crude oil in fish and shellfish.  FDA has issued statements that there is unlikely little public health risk associated with consuming seafood that has been exposed to dispersants.  Yet, the FDA failed to cite a single scientific study supporting this assertion.

“We are asking FDA to expand its seafood testing to protect public health and to restore the confidence of the consuming public and Gulf residents,” Erickson said, noting a recent survey indicating that even people who make their living off of the Gulf seafood industry have serious concerns about whether sensory testing ensures the Gulf’s seafood is safe to eat.  “If the people that live in the Gulf and depend on its waters are worried about the seafood, then we should all be worried.”

The FDA Commissioner has 180 days to respond to the PEER petition by either granting or denying it in whole or part or adopting a “tentative” middle ground.  “We would hope FDA responds to this petition before the deadline,” Erickson added.


Read the petition

See the unanswered questions from Louisiana state officials about dispersants

View the FDA Gulf web center

Look at the Consensus Statement of Scientists on Dispersants

See the Swedish risk assessment on dispersants

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