Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

A Review of Seafood Safety after the Deepwater Horizon Blowout

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

A Review of Seafood Safety after the Deepwater Horizon Blowout

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: The Deepwater Horizon (DH) blowout resulted in fisheries closings across the Gulf of Mexico. Federal agencies, in collaboration with impacted Gulf states, developed a protocol to determine when it is safe to reopen fisheries based on sensory and chemical analyses of seafood. All federal waters have been reopened, yet concerns have been raised regarding the robustness of the protocol to identify all potential harmful exposures and protect the most sensitive populations.

OBJECTIVES: We aimed to assess this protocol based on comparisons with previous oil spills, published testing results, and current knowledge regarding chemicals released during the DH oil spill.

METHODS: We performed a comprehensive review of relevant scientific journal articles and government documents concerning seafood contamination and oil spills and consulted with academic and government experts.

RESULTS: Protocols to evaluate seafood safety before reopening fisheries have relied on risk assessment of health impacts from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposures, but metal contamination may also be a concern. Assumptions used to determine levels of concern (LOCs) after oil spills have not been consistent across risk assessments performed after oil spills. Chemical testing results after the DH oil spill suggest PAH levels are at or below levels reported after previous oil spills, and well below LOCs, even when more conservative parameters are used to estimate risk.

CONCLUSIONS: We recommend use of a range of plausible risk parameters to set bounds around LOCs, comparisons of post-spill measurements with baseline levels, and the development and implementation of long-term monitoring strategies for metals as well as PAHs and dispersant components. In addition, the methods, results, and uncertainties associated with estimating seafood safety after oil spills should be communicated in a transparent and timely manner, and stakeholders should be actively involved in developing a long-term monitoring strategy.

KEY WORDS: Deepwater Horizon, dispersants, Gulf of Mexico, heavy metals, oil spill, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, risk assessment, seafood. Environ Health Perspect 119:1062-1069 (2011). doi:10.1289/ehp.l 103507 [Online 12 May 2011]

Current estimates suggest that the Deepwater Horizon (DH) blowout resulted in the release of approximately 4.4 million barrels [+ or -] 20% (7.0 x 10 (5) m (3)) into the northern Gulf of Mexico over a 3-month period during the summer of 2010 (Crone and Tolstoy 2010). The leak was a result of a deepwater rig explosion on 20 April 2010 due to methane gas release after drilling an exploratory well. An attempt to activate a safety feature to prevent a blowout failed. After burning for 36 hr, the entire platform sank to the seafloor.

Because of concerns over seafood safety, on 2 May 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initiated closures of federal waters to commercial and recreational fishing; Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and eventually Florida subsequently instituted fisheries closures in state waters, in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Figure 1). By 21 June, closures covered approximately 37[Percent] of the Gulf of Mexico (225,290 1cm2), extending east from Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana, to Panama City, Florida (NOAA 2010b). The well was capped on 15 July, and on 19 September, relief wells were completed that permanently disabled the well. Reopening of closed areas to fishing began on 23 June, although NOAA reclosed 10,911 km to deepwater fishing for royal red shrimp northwest of the wellhead on 24 November 2010 (NOAA 2010a). On 21 January 2011, only 0.4[Percent] of federal waters (1,041 mi2; 2,697 km (2)) immediately surrounding the well remained closed to fisheries. As of 19 April 2011 all Gulf of Mexico federal waters are open to fisheries.

The ecological and human health impacts of the DH oil blowout may differ from previous oil spills because of the depth at which the oil leak occurred, the large volume of oil released, and the unprecedented volume of dispersants (Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527) used at the wellhead. …

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