A coalition of environmental and social nonprofits and churches on Tuesday called on the federal government to beef up seafood testing following the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A letter drafted by the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of the groups calls for a review of current procedures, which have led to reopening commercial fishing in large sections of the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re raising a few concerns about the scope of the seafood safety assessments that are going on,” said Gina Solomon, senior scientific advisor to the NRDC. “We’re not saying they are totally inadequate, or questioning a specific reopening, but there were things that gave us pause. “
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration already are moving to increase testing. NOAA and the FDA are developing a test to detect dispersants in seafood as part of an effort to assuage ongoing health concerns about the chemicals used to break up the oil as it gushed into the ocean.
The federal agencies have also been bringing in more non-government researchers to analyze the data to address concerns that the testing has not been transparent enough.
“We're taking extraordinary steps to assure a high level of confidence in the seafood," NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, told reporters on Monday.
But the letter to the agency said portions of the safety testing are based on assumptions of average body weights that may fail to protect people who fall outside the parameters.
“They assumed that the average weight of a seafood consumer is 175 pounds,” said Solomon, a physician and scientist who studies toxic contamination for the NRDC. “That’s OK if you’re a guy, but not for most women or a kid. Those are populations we are the most concerned about.”
The letter raises concerns about the use of national consumption averages to calculate risk to seafood consumers, which would likely understate the risk to coastal communities that rely solely or largely on seafood for protein.
The letter also points out that the agencies are not testing seafood for heavy metals. At present the testing focuses on a different set of contaminants found in oil--polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
“Cadmium, copper, lead and mercury have all been detected in studies of crude oil,” and should be included in Gulf seafood monitoring “given the public health threat of exposures to low levels of these metals and their potential to bio-accumulate in seafood,” it said.
The full text of the letter to NOAA, can be viewed by clicking here. We will report on NOAA’s response to the letter when it is issued.