Environmentalists question state seafood testing


HOUMA, La. — Environmentalists challenged a statement from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Thursday stating that the average consumer could eat as much as 63 pounds of Louisiana shrimp a day for five years before consuming an unsafe level of oil.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a New Orleans-based environmental nonprofit, sent a letter to the agency Friday. The letter also asks why information about the sampling process, such as where samples were taken and how much of each kind of seafood was tested, isn’t publicly available.

But Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials say the information is available, and anyone can access it. It can be found on the Department of Heath and Hospital’s website, www.dhh.la.gov, and by clicking on the link for “oil spill resources” and then clicking “current seafood safety surveillance report.”

Following those links will bring you to the state’s latest seafood-testing report, released Monday, which contains the newest results available.

You can look at a map detailing where samples were collected, read about the state’s protocol for testing, see a breakdown of how many of each species were tested, and which tested positive for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, the pollutant compound in oil scientists commonly test for.

So far, the state has tested 1,073 samples of Gulf seafood, and none have shown levels of oil compounds considered dangerous to human health.

“Everything we do is public,” said Wildlife and Fisheries Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina. “We can’t withhold anything. We feel confident that we’ve spent a great deal of money to absolutely prove that the seafood is safe. We’ve been funded to do testing for three years, and if any waters are closed due to oil in that time, the three years will start again.”

The state has received $18 million from BP for the testing program, and it will be testing inshore and offshore waters. Federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are also conducting testing in offshore waters.

Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said the group became concerned after the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released a statement Thursday reiterating the safety of seafood. In the statement, Wildlife and Fisheries says you’d have to eat 63 pounds of shrimp, 5 pounds of oysters and 9 pounds of fish every day for a year to consume what scientists consider a toxic amount of oil compounds, based on the state’s testing of seafood.

Rolfes said she is glad the information the Louisiana Bucket Brigade requested is publicly available and that the organization had been misinformed. But she added that the group still has concerns about the state’s claim.

“I wonder what medical people they have looking at these data,” Rolfes said. “Environmental health and chemical exposure is a field where there’s not a lot of expertise. We don’t know what the effects are, short-term and long-term.”

Rolfes added that the samples are only taken in a single location on a certain day, and she contends a more-robust monitoring program should be undertaken in specific, oiled environments like Pointe-aux-Chenes and Barataria Bay.

Staff Writer Nikki Buskey can be reached at 985-857-2205 or at nicole.buskey@houmatoday.com.

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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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