by Mary Ellen Kuhn
A little over a year after the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, government regulators with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have determined that seafood from the gulf is safe for human consumption.
“The bottom line is that there is an extensive amount of data that supports the statement that gulf seafood is safe to eat,” said Calvin Walker, a scientist with NOAA, who made the statement at a press conference on Monday, June 13, during the 2011 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in New Orleans.
NOAA and FDA teamed up to test seafood for oil contaminants and chemical dispersants used to break up the oil that flowed into the gulf. The agencies focused testing on two compounds—Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the oil and Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate (DOSS) from the dispersants.
The agencies broke up the affected area (about 37% of the Gulf of Mexico) into 30-mile grids and systematically conducted tests on samples drawn from each grid. During the testing process, thousands of samples were collected and tested for contaminants using both sensory and chemical analysis.
At this point, said Walker, all samples have passed the established testing protocols; levels of contaminants were routinely found to be 100 to 1,000 times below any levels of concern. All federal waters and 99% of the state waters have been reopened for seafood harvesting. NOAA is wrapping up the post-opening surveillance process of follow-up testing.