Researchers: Gulf seafood safe to eat

Published on
August 23, 2010

Seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico has not been found to contain levels of oil or chemicals that would be of concern to human health, said researchers at the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Seminar on Tuesday.

At ACS’s National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, researchers said they have not found high levels of oil and hydrocarbons, compounds that occur naturally in crude oil, in Gulf seafood.

“The seafood does not show it, and, when there is exposure in finfish and shellfish, it clears quickly. Also, we only eat the muscle portion of shrimp and finfish,” said Trevor Penning, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition, the researchers have not found levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — chemical compounds that occur in oil, coal, tar and some foods — that would negatively impact human health.

“The traces [of PAHs] are so low, they are inconsequential. We are exposed to these materials every day at very low levels and are able to metabolize them in our bodies,” said Penning. PAHs, he explained, are products of fossil-fuel combustion and even occur in char-grilled foods.

However, it is possible that oil will be found in ocean sediment in the future, which could impact fish and shellfish.

“The seafood now may be safe. But, to make sure that it remains safe, we have to continue to measure for these PAHs in the long term,” said Penning.

While some in the seafood industry have raised concerns about BP’s use of dispersants to break up the oil, researchers are not concerned about the detergent’s effect on marine life.

“The concerns of dispersants in seafood safety are overblown. It is difficult to have a large enough concentration to have a credible impact,” said Jeffrey Short, Ph.D., of oceans-advocacy group Oceana, who studied both the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Gulf of Alaska and the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Meanwhile, a multitude of studies on the impact of oil on marine life and the Gulf ecosystem are underway.

“We are in the middle of assessing damage in the deepwater communities. We have experiments going on from the corals brought back to the labs … and we have a number of samples taken for tissue analysis for hydrocarbons that would identify animals that were subject to exposure from hydrocarbons from the oil spill,” said Erik Cordes, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Temple University.

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