FDA Should Test Gulf Seafood for Dispersant Contamination

For Immediate Release

FDA Should Test Gulf Seafood for Dispersant Contamination

Legal Petition Demands FDA Move beyond "Smell Test" to Look at Chemicals

WASHINGTON - 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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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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