Despite consumer worries in the year since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, repeated studies show seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico is perfectly safe, a LSU AgCenter seafood technology specialist said Monday.
“We’re fighting a perception,” Lucina E. Lampila, associate professor in the LSU AgCenter food science department, told 25 people attending the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon unit was drilling an exploratory well at the Macondo Prospect in about 5,000 feet of water.
On April 20, 2010, methane ignited causing the semi-submersible unit to explode and collapse. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over a three-month period.
About 1.1 million gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed into the water to break up the clumps of oil.
Crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons that are associated with health risks to the lungs and kidneys and to nervous and immune systems.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tested polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, called PAHs, which are the most likely to cause cancer.
The testing involved first smelling thousands of samples of shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish followed by laboratory analysis. Lampila said the tests found no samples with adverse PAH levels. The message is not getting out to the public in the rest of the country, she said.
“The perception is improving, just not very fast,” agreed Rex Caffey, a marine economist with the LSU AgCenter, who attended the press club meeting.
Part of the reason is the criticism leveled by some environmentalists against the government’s testing protocol.
William Sawyer, a toxicologist working for New Orleans law firm Smith Stag, LLC., last year called FDA safety tests “little more than a farce.” He said the FDA should use more comprehensive methods to tests for the compounds.
Lampila disagreed, saying tests were conducted on more than 300,000 individual animals and the levels recorded were 100 to 1,000 percent less than the levels that would have caused concern. It has been calculated that someone would have to eat 60 pounds of shrimp per day for five years for there to be a potential for an adverse effect, she said.
Fish can have up to 100 parts per million of oil and chemical dispersant residue and shellfish can have up to 500 parts per million, according to the FDA. A part per million is one drop in a gallon of water, Lampila said.
“It’s probably the most scrutinized (seafood) in the country right now, if not the world,” Lampila said.