After the BP oil spill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was safe to continue eating Gulf seafood. But a new study says that pregnant women and children should avoid it, thanks to heightened levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds found in oil, gasoline and coal that have been linked to cancer. But I can’t help but wonder: if it’s not safe for them, shouldn’t we avoid it, too?
The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and found that the FDA’s standards for “safe” levels of PAH contamination are 100-1,000 times higher than those defined by the Natural Resources Defense Council. They also found that 53% of Gulf shrimp were contaminated over the levels that they deem safe for pregnant women to consume. The NRDC filed a petition the same day, requesting that the FDA reconsider its safety standards, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children.
Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a researcher with the NRDC, says that the FDA is basing their recommendations on some faulty—and dangerous—assumptions, noting on her blog that they are “assuming everyone weighs 80 kg (176 lbs), underestimating how much seafood Gulf residents eat, ignoring the cancer risk from naphthalene [a common PAH] contamination, failing to address the increased vulnerability of pregnant women and children, allowing for a high level of cancer risk, and assuming that the contamination will only last five years.”
The NRDC says they’re primarily concerned with recommendations for vulnerable populations; Rotkin-Ellman says they they didn’t find levels unsafe for other adults. But here’s the thing: If cancer-causing compounds are lurking in gulf seafood (which seems likely, given that BP dumped nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf last year), then it seems like a good idea to moderate the amount of Gulf seafood you consume, even if you’re not pregnant or under the age of 18. If you Gulf shrimp are a big part of your high-protein diet, or you live on the coast and eat seafood every day, it might be worth reassessing your diet, at least while the FDA and NRDC sort out what they really consider safe.
Photo: How The Hell Should I Know?