Magazine article The Nation's Health

FDA May Underestimate Danger of BP Oil Spill to Seafood Consumers

Magazine article The Nation's Health

FDA May Underestimate Danger of BP Oil Spill to Seafood Consumers

Article excerpt

THE FOOD and Drug Administration needs to update the methods it uses to assess the safety of foods, including seafood potentially contaminated in the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study presented at APHA's 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., in November.

After the spill, FDA mandated the use of two tests to assess the safety of seafood. The first test is a sniff test, and the second is a chemical test for 13 poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the main constituent of crude oil. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are known carcinogens and have been linked to developmental problems.

FDA also calculated allowable thresholds, known as levels of concern, for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in each type of Gulf seafood it tested. To develop those levels of concern, FDA made assumptions about the population of people who could potentially be exposed, said APHA member Karen Wong, MD, MPH, who presented the research at the Annual Meeting. Wong, who conducted the research while a resident physician in the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said the research indicates that those assumptions likely resulted in an underestimation of the exposure to the chemicals in seafood.

Those assumptions included high body weight, which does not account for women and smaller people consuming the food; low estimates of seafood consumption; and short exposure duration, she said.

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In the FDA assessment, for example, body weight was estimated to be about 80 kg, or 176 pounds, which Wong said under-protects nearly 75 percent of women and children. …

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