Study Finds Gulf Seafood Not Safe For Pregnant Women, Children

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it’s okay to eat Gulf seafood following the environmentally devastating <"">BP oil spill last year, an environmental advocacy group disagrees and says gulf seafood is not safe for pregnant women and children.

As we’ve mentioned, the BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Ranking as the largest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, the BP oil spill paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coast’s economy, including seafood and tourism.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the FDA’s standards are “based on outdated science” and do not fully take into account cancer-causing contaminants and their risks to pregnant women and children who eat Gulf seafood, said Time Magazine’s Healthland.

Healthland pointed out that the issue concerns what the FDA considers to be safe polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) levels in oil, coal, and gasoline; PAHs have been linked to cancer in animals and humans. Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, an NRDC researcher, said that the FDA accepts 100-10,000 times more PAH contamination in seafood than the NRDC feels is safe for pregnant women, children, and other “vulnerable populations,” said Healthland.

The NRDC data was just published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the same day it filed a petition asking the FDA to review its data and create new PAH limits for seafood, said Healthland. The NRDC said in its petition that it is seeking “to ensure public safety,” specifically for the more vulnerable.

Rotkin-Ellman, writing in her blog, pointed out “six major flaws” in the FDA’s assessment of Gulf seafood PAHs: “Assuming everyone weighs 80 kg (176 lbs), underestimating how much seafood Gulf residents eat, ignoring the cancer risk from naphthalene [a common PAH] contamination, failing to address the increased vulnerability of pregnant women and children, allowing for a high level of cancer risk, and assuming that the contamination will only last five years,” reported Healthland.

As we’ve long explained, PAHs are an environmental health issue because several are probable human carcinogens and are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. PAHs accumulate in sediment and travel through the food chain via aquatic life.

Rotkin-Ellman and her team found that, for example, the FDA stated that 123,000 micrograms of naphthalene per kilogram of shrimp is safe for general consumption, but the NRDC calculation found that only 5.91 micrograms is appropriate to protect vulnerable groups who consume a lot of seafood and that 46.99 micrograms of naphthalene per kilogram of shellfish is safe for an adult, wrote Healthland. Looking at cancer risks, the NRDC said that if 1,000 pregnant women and their children consumed Gulf seafood contaminated with what the FDA considered safe levels, 20 children born in this group would be at increased cancer, added Healthland.

About 53% of the shrimp tested in the NDRC study revealed PAH levels in excess of its safe limits. “We’re very confident that the steps that we have put in place to assure the safety of seafood have worked,” FDA spokesman Doug Karas told The Democrat, said Healthland. “We put in an extensive program of sampling, at that time and since then, and the results have consistently been 100 to 1,000 times below our levels of concern,” Karas added.

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