Federal on-scene coordinator Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said last week that Gulf Coast oil disaster responders are working with Louisiana on a more aggressive marketing campaign to assure seafood safety. "It's clearly the most sampled seafood," he said. "We're really dealing with product imaging right now."
Zukunft also said shrimp are deveined and deshelled before testing — though he is aware that regional cooks often purchase shrimp still in the shell and prepare them in-shell with veins intact. That's not the only concern others have about seafood tests. Last month, environmental scientist Wilma Subra released the results from her sampling of eight residents and BP cleanup workers in Alabama and Florida. Those blood tests were positive for volatile solvents from crude oil in high concentrations. Subra charged that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) raised the acceptable levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in seafood. (Tests still do not look for dispersants.)
In October, the FDA and NOAA announced their seafood tests — going beyond sensory (or "sniff") tests — but found only 13 samples out of 1,735 contained any trace amounts of oil-based chemicals. But in June, the FDA and NOAA rewrote their guidelines. From the FDA outline: "The new numbers were developed specifically for the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon Oil spill event and will not necessarily be applicable after all fisheries closed due to oil contamination are reopened for safe harvest. Levels of concern and other factors for any subsequent oil spill event would be independently evaluated based on case-specific information."
On Oct. 29, marine toxicologist Susan Shaw criticized the FDA and NOAA's lack of transparency to the Los Angeles Times, and Al Jazeera's English-language website published an investigation ("BP dispersants 'causing sickness'") revealing detailed accounts of several Gulf residents' medical conditions and symptoms similar to those of chemical poisoning, from rashes and nausea to colored discharges. — Alex Woodward