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General News

BP Oil Pollution Produces Pressure for Poor Water and Air Analysis

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber     Permalink
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NOAA has declared fish outside the three-mile limit fit for market, but admits that fish caught within the three-mile limit cannot go to market because the product has not been properly tested.

In a transcript from Senate hearings last week Larry Robinson, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, was grilled by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland).

Robinson said, "Research on the effectiveness and effects of dispersants and dispersed oil has been underway for more than three decades, but vital gaps still exist," adding, "chemical dispersants can be an effective tool in the response strategy, but like all methods involve tradeoffs in terms of effectiveness and potential for collateral impacts."

Here is where the devil enters the details.

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At the sea surface, early life-stages of fish and shellfish are much more sensitive than juveniles or adults to dispersants and dispersed oil. There are no data on the toxicity of dispersed oil to deep-sea marine life at any stage, so we have to extrapolate based on existing knowledge. However, at both the surface and sub-surface, modeling and monitoring is confirming that dispersed oil concentrations decline rapidly with distance from the wellhead as it mixes with seawater and moves with the currents away from the treated areas.

NOAA has been conducting chemical analysis of seafood collected after the Deepwater Horizon incident. Seafood samples consisting of fin fish and oysters are analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, Madam Chairman, to measure uptake of these compounds present in oil by marine species. To date, none of the seafood samples analyzed for these compounds have concentrations that exceed EPA and FDA guidelines, ensuring seafood reaching the marketplace is safe to eat.

But according to Robinson, "Thus far, we haven't found any evidence of these contaminants in any of the species that we've taken outside of the contaminated area."

The tests have been conducted to identify dispersed oil, not Corexit, and the Louisiana shoreline is certainly contaminated with both. Mikulski went on to ask what agency oversees state waters. Was it the FDA?

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ROBINSON: That's correct. Right. And so FDA works with the states to ensure -- to help ensure that fish doesn't reach the marketplace that's taken within the three-mile limit that's contaminated with any of these products. And we provide any assistance that they need in that process.

Even if oil is the only worry, do fish swim outside of the "contaminated area?" What about the obviously oiled waters within the three-mile limit that have been declared open for recreational users who pay all of those license fees?

NOAA is also relying upon extrapolated data, and not hard data, on the affected species. That responsibility for monitoring falls to the State of Louisiana and there are a lot of questions about who is behind oversight there.

Governor Bobby Jindal says in a press release that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has already sent the FDA " a proposed plan to open the same areas that the Commission approved for recreational fishing. In fact, LDWF has provided the FDA with input and testing samples that are awaiting the FDA labs to be reviewed. The LWFC passed a resolution urging the FDA to review the testing samples that are sitting in their labs and we support that resolution so we can open commercial fishing quickly in the areas where it is safe."

Where are the results? Is there a baseline for sampling?

FDA procedures include "baseline testing of seafood in oil-free areas for future comparisons; surveillance testing to ensure that seafood from areas near to closed fisheries are not contaminated; testing as part of the re-opening protocol to determine whether an area is producing seafood safe for consumption; and market testing to ensure that the closures are keeping contaminated food off the market."

Testing involves two steps, including both a sensory and a chemical analysis of fish and shellfish.

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In June, Michael R. Taylor, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA testified that NOAA and not the FDA is looking at bioaccumulation of dispersants.

The current science does not suggest that dispersants bioaccumulate in seafood. NOAA, however, is conducting studies to look at that issue. FDA will be closely reviewing the results of those studies. If the studies provide new information, that will be taken into consideration in management of the effects of the spill, with regard to seafood safety.

But Louisiana is looking to the FDA for answers within state waters.

Jindal emphasized the 12,260 commercial fishing licenses in Louisiana and over 1,500 seafood dealers/processors and brokers who rely on the industry. This is a compassionate response, but what about the unknown, untested and unverified public health consequences?

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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