Consumers of Seafood Question Toxicity Levels of Oil Clean-up Chemicals

A number of chemical agents were sprayed into the Gulf in an attempt to accelerate the decomposition of oil into less harmful forms.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assures residents that the chemicals used in conjunction with the Deepwater Horizon explosion do not pose a health risk, nor do they affect seafood in the contaminated water.  The dispersants are designed target oil without threatening the safety of human health.

Scientists explain that the chemicals are unlikely to accumulate in the tissues of fish or shellfish.  If the animals do ingest some of the synthetic agents, they pass safely through their systems, and have no impact on the food chain.  Anyone preparing or eating seafood caught in the Gulf does not need to be concerned.

The primary dispersant in use is called Corexit.  BP sprayed nearly 2 million gallons of this chemical across the surface of the water, as well as at the wellhead, located a full mile underwater.  Corexit was last deployed on July 19th, four days following the capping of the leaky oil well.  Corexit is manufactured by Nalco Holding, who released the chemical ingredient list to the EPA last month.  The primary ingredients are propylene glycol and 2-butoxyethanol, a food additive and fast degrading cleaner, respectively.  Corexit also contains a sulfonic acid salt which can be toxic, but not at the concentrations being used.  There are also a handful of volatile organics used as a solvent base in the dispersant, none of which merit any public health concerns, according to FDA scientists.  For this reason, fish and shellfish are not currently being monitored for Corexit toxicity.

The health risks of eating fish contaminated with oil are of much higher concern at the moment.  Samples of fish from the Gulf are currently being subjected to olfactory tests, and then complete laboratory analysis.  In particular, tests are being run to detect PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which come from oil and are known to be carcinogenic.

To date, only 76% of the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico have been reopened to fishermen.  The sections that remain off limits will be opened slowly based upon recommendations from the FDA.  Experts point out that while immediate toxicity is relatively easy to test for, not nearly as much is known about the long term effects that the spilled oil or the chemical dispersants will have on our health.  The aquatic food chain could take months or years to recover from this oil spill.