Research: Gulf Shrimp Widely Contaminated With Carcinogens

Gulf Shrimp Widely Contaminated With Carcinogens from Oil

Conservative estimates indicate that the 2010 BP oil disaster released over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, followed by at least 1.8 million gallons of dispersants.  While the use of dispersants helped mitigate the public relations disaster by preventing the persistent formation of surface oil, as well as keeping many beaches visibly untouched, they also drove the oil deeper into the water column (and food chain) rendering a 2-dimensional problem (surface oil) into a 3-dimensional one. Additionally, research indicates that dispersants prevent the biodegradation of toxic oil components, as well as increasing dispersant absorption into fish from between 6 to 1100 fold higher levels.

Since the event, both the mainstream media and the government have acted as if the oil disappeared, and that no significant health risks remain for the millions still consuming contaminated seafood from the Gulf.*

Now, a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has revealed that the 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster resulted in widespread contamination of Gulf Coast seafood with toxic components from crude oil.1  In fact, levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in shrimp were found to exceed the FDA’s established thresholds for allowable levels [levels of concern (LOCs)] for pregnant women in up to 53% of Gulf shrimp sampled.

PAHs are well-known carcinogens and developmental toxicants, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is obligated to set risk criteria and thresholds for allowable levels of exposure to them.** 

In the new study the authors set out to evaluate the degree to which the FDA’s procedures for determining the safety of Gulf seafood after the BP disaster reflect the current risk assessment guidelines and practices, as produced by other authoritative entities, including the National Research Council (NRC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California EPA.  The authors focused on cancer risk associated with shellfish consumption, looking at whether or not the FDA’s guidelines protect the most vulnerable populations, e.g. pregnant women, infants.

The authors discovered a glaring discrepancy between the FDA Gulf seafood risk assessment (FDA 2010a) and the FDA’s own prior practice with risk assessment guidelines produced by other authoritative entities.

The FDA’s risk assessment was found to be seriously flawed because of the following six questionable assumptions:

The questionable assumptions include six main issues: a) high consumer body weight, b) low estimates of seafood consumption, c) failure to include a cancer risk assessment for naphthalene, d) failure to adjust for early-life susceptibility to PAHs, e) short exposure duration, and f) high cancer risk benchmarks. Taken together, these flaws illustrate a failure to incorporate the substantial body of evidence on the increased vulnerability of subpopulations to contaminants, such as PAHs, in seafood.

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