Seafood Contamination after the BP Gulf Oil Spill and Risks to Vulnerable Populations: A Critique of the FDA Risk Assessment

Rotkin-Ellman, Miriam; Wong, Karen K.; Solomon, Gina M.
February 2012
Environmental Health Perspectives;Feb2012, Vol. 120 Issue 2, p157
Academic Journal
BACKGROUND: The BP oil spill of 2010 resulted in contamination of one of the most productive fisheries in the United States by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs, which can accumulate in seafood, are known carcinogens and developmental toxicants. In response to the oil spill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed risk criteria and established thresholds for allowable levels [levels of concern (LOCs)] of PAH contaminants in Gulf Coast seafood. OBJECTIVES: We evaluated the degree to which the FDA's risk criteria adequately protect vulnerable Gulf Coast populations from cancer risk associated with PAHs in seafood. DISCUSSION: The FDA LOCs significantly underestimate risk from seafood contaminants among sensitive Gulf Coast populations by failing to a) account for the increased vulnerability of the developing fetus and child; b) use appropriate seafood consumption rates; c) include all relevant health end points; and d) incorporate health-protective estimates of exposure duration and acceptable risk. For benzo[a]pyrene and naphthalene, revised LOCs are between two and four orders of magnitude below the level set by the FDA. Comparison of measured levels of PAHs in Gulf seafood with the revised LOCs revealed that up to 53% of Gulf shrimp samples were above LOCs for pregnant women who are high-end seafood consumers. CONCLUSION: FDA risk assessment methods should be updated to better reflect current risk assessment practices and to protect vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children.


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