Conservation, Environmental Hazards, FDA

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Did Not Contaminate Seafood

Blue crabs
Five years after the Deep Horizon oil spill, seafood contamination is minimal.
Image: Shutterstock

A recent study of seafood animals harvested along the Gulf Coast between 2011 and 2013 shows no elevated signs of contamination from the Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010. Following the spill, there were wide-ranging concerns about the ecological impact, including how that spill would impact seafood collected along the Gulf Coast.

Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences studied 1,000 samples of fish, shrimp, oysters, and blue crab caught between Cedar Key, Florida, and Mobile Bay, Alabama. They were looking for elevated levels of PAH, or polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are a component of oil and which can collect in plankton. Those plankton can then be eaten by other aquatic creatures and those PAHs, down the food chain, end up ingested by humans. Scientists monitor PAH levels because they have been connected to cancer.

The study found that 74% of the samples had PAH levels that were so low they couldn’t even be measured. About 23% contained between 0.1 and 0.9 parts per billion, and a mere 3% reached 1 and 48 parts per billion, meaning that all the samples were well within what the FDA considered acceptable ranges.

The FDAs “levels of concern” are based on a variety of factors, such as how much seafood a person eats on average. Even for people who eat significantly more seafood than the average American–generally people who live along the Gulf Coast or either are or live with commercial or recreational fishers–aren’t at risk at these numbers. To put that into perspective, people falling qualifying as “high-end consumers” eat between 200 and 980 percent as much fish as the average American.

There are still numerous questions about the Deepwater Horizon spill, including the question of why these numbers are so low. But we can be relieved that seafood, and the ecosystems from which that seafood is harvested, has survived the spill quite well.

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