Gulf of Mexico fish caught after the Deepwater Horizon disaster are safe to eat

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  • Published: Jan 21, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Base Peak / Atomic
thumbnail image: Gulf of Mexico fish caught after the Deepwater Horizon disaster are safe to eat

Fish caught in the open fishing regions in the Gulf of Mexico are safe to eat following the BP oil spill in 2010, say US researchers who established a voluntary testing program with commercial fisherman. Red snapper, grouper and tilefish caught between March and April 2012 were tested for seven carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals, and a component of the dispersants that were used to clean up the sea after the explosion.

Writing in Environmental Science and Technology, Timothy Fitzgerald from the Environmental Defense Fund and Julia Gohlke from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that only two samples from 92 tested had PAH levels above the detection limit in GC/MS tests. However, the amounts in those two samples remained below federal safety thresholds. The measured ratios of particular PAHs suggested they did not come from oil but were derived from the combustion of hydrocarbons.

Following ICPMS measurements of the metals, cadmium and lead were mostly absent while mercury and arsenic were consistent with previously reported concentrations. Strangely, mercury levels in tilefish were lower than published values. The reasons for this are not clear but these anomalous results need to be investigated further.

No fish had detectable levels of dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, derived from the cleanup surfactants, when measured by LC-tandem-MS.

All this does not mean that all fish in the Gulf of Mexico are safe to eat, only those caught in open fishing areas. However, it should go some way to allay the fears of consumers about catches from the Gulf, a point which the fisherman are keen to make because this testing program was instigated by the fishing industry.

The most contaminated areas were not tested and, given the nature of the contaminants, Fitzgerald and Gohlke recommended that monitoring of the catches should continue. "This testing should be paired with clear communication strategies for affected populations and social science research to further elucidate how the public responds to seafood safety messages in the context of major public health events," they concluded.

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