Concern Intensifies Over Flaws in Government “Seafood Testing” Program


The Times-Picayune has come out with a major story on the “debate” over the safety of Gulf seafood, echoing many of the points we’ve made over the past several weeks. One thing is very clear: Concern is intensifying among scientists about whether seafood coming out of the Gulf is safe for human consumption and whether the government has prematurely sounded the “all clear” on this important issue.

The TP article comes as more and more independent researchers are questioning the government’s testing procedures, including consumption estimates. Meanwhile, my researchers tell me they’re about to release more “troubling” test results showing dangerous levels of contamination in seafood samples.

Times-Picayune reporter Bob Marshall does a good job setting up the discussion:

New Orleanians LuAnn White and Patricia Williams are highly trained toxicologists, experts in food safety who agree on the lethal dangers presented by the carcinogens found in oil. But when it comes to the safety of eating locally caught seafood since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, they disagree completely.

“I eat the seafood and feed it to my family and I’m absolutely comfortable with that,” said White, a Tulane University professor and consultant for the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

“Since the spill I haven’t eaten the seafood and I’ve urged my children not to eat it or feed it to my grandchildren,” said Williams, who teaches at UNO and is on retainer for plaintiffs suing BP. “I consider it too risky.”

As mainstream media reports go, this one is pretty skeptical of the official “Mission Accomplished” message. Note one of the experts works for the government, and the other for BP victims. The report does carry the usual “it’s all perception” line from the government, but then does a good job of listing the growing number of problems. The article also points out that it’s not just the non-scientific public with doubts but “certified toxicologists and public health advocates” who are concerned.

The paper notes that experts: …charge the formula used to set allowable levels of contamination is flawed in at least four ways:

  • It lowballs local seafood consumption rates.
  • By assuming an average weight of 176 pounds, it leaves large populations unprotected, including children.
  • The amount of seafood being tested is far too low.
  • The list of toxic substances being searched for is too narrow.

In short, they think the whole process is flawed.

How low are those consumption rates? Well, for shrimp, it’s four shrimp. Four. And for oysters, it’s one oyster. One. Does anybody know anyone who has just one oyster, unless it’s somebody trying them raw for the first time? It’s a joke – unless you’re the one trying to figure out what that means for kids.

This story from an important regional newspaper may be a milestone in turning national media coverage away from the “all clear” being sounded by government and some business interests. Meanwhile, my commercial fishing clients are still not convinced and many of those living closest to the Gulf are very, very concerned about the safety of seafood.

Here’s the Times-Picayune story:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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