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Testing seafood in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill

  
  
  
  
  

The Gulf of Mexico is considered to be one of the richest bodies of water in the world in terms of seafood. However the seafood industry was deeply threatened after the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon Oil rig in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2010, 4.9 million barrels dumped into the Gulf and fishing was forbidden by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This measure was taken to prevent contaminated seafood from entering the market. This oil spill has had many consequences on the Gulf Coast Seafood Industry, as fish harvests in the Gulf account for 20% of US Commercial Seafood Production; over 1.3 billion pounds of fish, crabs, oysters and shrimps.

However, this spill enabled one of the most intensive and public seafood safety programs ever to be launched. Just one year after the explosion, the entire Gulf was reopened to fishing by NOAA. NOAA along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state authorities, decided to reopen protocol with analytical testing for contaminants. This protocol focused mainly on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and chemicals in the dispersants. The protocol also implements an ongoing surveillance  and testing program.

The main goal of the project was to strike a balance between consumer protection and seafood industry’s desire to get back in business. In order to reach this aim, an extensive program of sampling has to be implemented to find the most accurate way to show if a product is contaminated. When the spill happened, there were not any quick and accurate methods for testing. That is why multiple labs began developing new methods for sample preparation and analysis of PAHs and dispersants.

However, environmental groups and academic researchers disagreed about the government’s overall approach to risk assessment and think that the FDA underestimated risks. Considering the experience from previous spills, they feared that the methods used wouldn't be efficient to establish safe levels for contaminants and to clear oil from animal systems for example.

NOAA and the FDA disagreed  with these claims. They felt their approach was completely under control and developed in great detail. They had sensory screens and sniff-&-taste tests for all seafood samples, performed by inspectors trained at NOAA’s Laboratory, who can detect unusual odors and flavors.  Samples underwent chemical analyses as well. If there was or is one issue detected from any of the parameters, fishing areas would be closed. Besides, NOAA and FDA developed a new method in late October 2010 to complete the PAH method in order to be all the more efficient and cautious. The FDA set levels of concern for  PAH’s in Gulf seafood as shown in the table below.

 

 

LEVELS OF CONCERN (PPM)      ( C&EN Chemical and Engineering News, July 18, 2011)

CHEMICAL

SCHRIMP / CRAB

OYSTERS

FINFISH

Non cancer causing

 

 

 

Naphtalene

123

133

32.7

Fluorene

246

267

65.3

Anthracene & phenanthrene

1,846

2,000

490

Pyrene

185

200

49.0

Fluoranthene

246

267

65.3

 

 

Cancer Potential

 

 

 

Chrysene

132

143

35.0

Benzo[k]fluoranthene

13.2

14.3

3.5

Benzo[b]fluoranthene

1.32

1.43

0.35

Benzo[a]fluoranthene

1.32

1.43

0.35

Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene

1.32

1.43

0.35

Dibenzo[a,h]anthracene

0.132

0.143

0.035

Benzo[a]pyrene

0.132

0.143

0.035

 

Another part of the protocol consists of ensuring consumer confidence in the safety of Gulf Seafood. In order to do so, programs like Gulf Wild, to “track your fish” were created (who harvested it and where).

 

At the moment, monitoring will continue with the money that BP  gave to Gulf State agencies for seafood testing and marketing campaign. In March 2011, NOAA said it would continue testing through this summer and FDA will conduct its testing until October 2012. 

 

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