Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, is calling on federal officials to conduct a more rigorous testing regimen for Gulf of Mexico shrimp and seafood after the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proclaimed the shrimp and seafood safe to eat.
NOAA has reopened commercial and recreational finfishing in a 5,144-square-mile section of federal waters off the coast of the Florida Panhandle
, after testing done in coordination with the federal Food and Drug Administration showed no traces of oil or dispersants in fish samples that would be of concern to public health. However, Solomon said the data indicate that the agency only used data from 12 samples of shrimp, consisting of 73 individual shrimp, for its evaluation.
That's just too small, she said, for an area that is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA'sadministrator, said the monitoring of shrimp is ongoing and will assure that shrimp from the Gulf is safe in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill
. "The Gulf seafood taken from these waters is safe to eat, and today's reopening announcement is another signal to tourists the northern Gulf is open for business," Lubchenco said.
NOAA officials insist they will continue to test samples from reopened areas to ensure there is no risk of harm to consumers. FDA and NOAA are also testing samples in the marketplace, at seafood unloading docks and at wholesale seafood processing houses.
In an earlier meeting by the Gulf Oil Spill and Seafood Safety Government Panel, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admitted it is NOT testing for mercury arsenic, or other toxic heavy metals in seafood despite giving the ok the fisheries to continue distribution to seafood wholesalers and retailers.
The FDA has declined repeated requests to provide information about the toxic substances that were found, but the agency is mostly looking for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which have been linked to cancer.
Independent scientists also criticised the EPA for claiming that the combination of oil and dispersants posed no greater danger to marine life on its own.
"The bottom line is that a lot of oil is still at sea dispersed in the water column," said Ron Kendall. "It's a big ecological question as to how this will ultimately unfold." Previous studies, including a 400-page study by the National Academy of Sciences, have warned that the combination of oil and dispersants is more toxic than oil on its own, because the chemicals break down cell walls, making organisms more susceptible to oil.
The EPA issued an earlier report based on a study of how much of the mixture was needed to kill a species of shrimp and small fish, just two of the 15,000 types of marine life in the Gulf. The EPA test did not address medium- or long-term effects, or reports last week that dispersants were discovered in the larvae of blue crab, entering the food chain.
The bottom line is that some Gulf seafood is probably safe and other Gulf seafood is probably not very safe, depending on where it swam in relation to the oil plumes and a host of other factors. But since the government is being close-lipped about the details of its test results - and isn't even testing for dispersants - it is hard to know whether a particular piece of seafood is safe or not.