A sampling of more than 1,000 Gulf of Mexico fish, shrimp, oysters, and blue crabs taken from Cedar Key, Florida, to Mobile Bay, Alabama, between 2011 to 2013, shows no elevated contaminant levels, according to a seafood safety study conducted by Dr. Andrew Kane and University of Florida colleagues. In fact, some 74 percent of the seafood tested showed no quantifiable levels of oil contaminants at all.
“Seafood appears as safe to eat now as it was before the spill,” said Dr. Kane, an associate professor of environmental and global health at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and director of the Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratory at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.
Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, many people were concerned that seafood was contaminated by either the oil or dispersants used to keep the oil from washing ashore. Those concerns were still present during a study three years later conducted by UF for the Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities Project, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Dr. Kane and his team, including researchers from UF’s Center for Human and Environmental Toxicology, and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, tested inshore-harvested species of coastal seafood along the Gulf of Mexico – typically caught within a half a mile of the coastline. They looked at polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are a component of oil that can accumulate in plankton and microorganisms, and can then be ingested by fish and other seafood. PAHs are monitored because some can cause cancer. The Food and Drug Administration long ago established “Levels of Concern” (LOCs) for PAHs in fish and shellfish. These LOCs are based on the toxicity of specific contaminants, if present, the levels of these contaminants present in seafood, how much seafood people eat, consumer body weight, and other factors.
Contaminant data from sampled seafood is being combined with seafood consumption data from coastal residents who participated in the UF study. Study participants represented potentially “high-end consumers” – people who may eat a lot more seafood harvested along the Gulf coast than the average consumer in the United States. Survey data was collected at fishing tournaments, seafood festivals, fishing piers, etc., and survey responses that indicated that two-thirds of participants live in households with a commercial or recreational fisher.
These residents consumed anywhere from 200 to 980 percent more seafood (based on the consumers’ age and seafood type eaten) than the general public. Even taking into account their substantially higher seafood consumption rates compared to national statistics, Dr. Kane said that the extremely small levels of contaminants observed likely represent baseline levels and are probably not sufficient to affect these “high-end consumers.”