Louisiana environmental groups protest FDA seafood safety standards

by Mary Tutwiler

Local environmental groups, which have been protesting the adequacy of Food and Drug Administration seafood testing from the start of the BP oil spill in the Gulf, are adding their voices to the Natural Resources Defense Council's findings.

Last week, the NRDC released a report stating the FDA's formula for the amount of seafood consumed per month, and thus the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), potentially cancer-causing chemicals found in oil considered safe to consume, is not realistic for Gulf states residents.

New Iberia chemist and environmental consultant Wilma Subra says she has been lobbying for more rigorous standards for months. She has been requesting that the FDA redo the calculations to reflect the dietary habits of the people on the coast.

"FDA based their consumption on a meal consisting of four shrimp, and only eating that meal once a week," says Subra. "Which is totally inadequate when you look at what the consumption is of people who live along the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico."

The formula the FDA is using to determine how much seafood Gulf Coast residents eat is approximately 16.4 seafood meals per month, including 9.1 meals of fish, 2.9 of oysters and 4.4 of shrimp and crab. The portion size is set at 5.6 ounces of fish, 4.2 ounces of oysters and 3.1 ounces of shrimp or crab.

Her other concern is that the FDA is not testing for another oil component released during the spill, which is turning up in seafood she has been testing for local environmental groups under the aegis of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. "The FDA published  levels of concern for PAH, but they did not establish levels of concern for total petroleum hydrocarbon oil range organics," which is a larger element of the component of the oil that BP released. "We're finding in not the parts per billion or parts per million, but all the way up in the percentage range of oil range organics, and yet there's no criteria established by FDA on this," says Subra.

Subra says she has been calling the FDA, asking them to test for oil range organics, to no avail.

Other environmental groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and NOLA Emergency Response have also been trying to get the attention of the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all of whom use the same PHA standards for seafood safety.