When discussing any issue concerning the safety of a food product in the wake of an ecological event and the impact on human health, there are, of course, questions that arise. Questions and opinions fall on a wide spectrum and represent valid concerns. Below you will find information on some of these concerns that have been raised in the wake of the oil spill, as well as any available explanations, conclusions and related links for further reading. As we continue to evaluate the effect of the oil spill on our environment, we understand that more questions will arise. If you have a question or concern and you would like to join the discussion, please visit our comment form.
Issues with how Level of Concern is determined
The issues below all deal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's determination of "Level of Concern". To read more about how this is calculated, click here.
Issue: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses assumptions about consumption habits to calculate the Level of Concern, but these assumptions do not accurately reflect the amount of seafood Gulf Coast residents actually consume.
Response: It is true that the levels of concern are based on an average-sized adult male eating small portions of seafood. While this consumption rate may be accurate for typical Americans, most Gulf Coast residents consume larger amounts of seafood on a more frequent basis. However, the levels of compounds being founds in seafood are so extremely low, 100 to 1,000 times lower than the level of concern, that they don't come anywhere near the levels of concern. In fact, based on in-depth state and federal analysis, the average seafood consumer could eat 63 pounds of shrimp, 5 pounds of oyster meat or 9 pounds of fish filets every day for five years without exceeding the risk level.
Issue: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not calculate a separate Level of Concern for children.
Response:The FDA is currently working to establish levels of concern for oil contaminants in seafood for children. However, the levels of contaminants being found in seafood, when they are found at all, are incredibly low - in most cases 1,000s of times lower than the levels of concern.
Issue: The Level of Concern can only be used to guesstimate a person's chance of contracting cancer from exposure to certain PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). It does not take into account things like peak exposure, dose frequencies or how the different compounds react to each other to increase or decrease the threat of cancer.
Response:The FDA and state officials said decided the appropriate risk was a 1-in-100,000 chance of a 176-pound person contracting cancer sometime during his 78-year life span if he eats specified portions of seafood every day for five consecutive years.
Issues with the compounds being tested for
Issue: The list of toxic substances being tested for is too narrow. There should also be testing done for any traces of TPHs (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons).
Response:According to the FDA, NOAA and toxicologists specializing in seafood safety, the broad range of toxicity found by screening for TPHs does little to identify compounds that may be harmful to humans. TPHs as a whole are not screened for as a primary testing method because some hydrocarbons can found naturally in seafood -- fats or lipids may register as TPHs. Even storing seafood in plastic bags could cause the presence of TPHs in seafood (safety samples are wrapped in aluminum foil to protect against this). Louisiana's safety plan tests only for the worst hydrocarbons -- 12 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer and other serious health problems.
Issues with the sample sizes
Issue: The number of samples tested from each basin is not representative of the amount of seafood normally harvested in that area.
Response:Sample site selection is based on several factors. Samples are collected in historical locations, i.e., areas in which species are known to be located during certain times of the year. Samples are also collected across the coastline in order to ensure that all seafood being harvested across the coast is safe. While some commercially harvested fish may come from area A, recreational fishermen may harvest in area B. We sample not just in area A, but in both areas to make sure that whether commercially or recreationally harvested, seafood is safe. On average 329 samples are collected each month, including seafood, soil and water.