The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and nearly two dozen Gulf Coast organizations have requested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “strengthen the current protocols and data relied on to determine whether seafood is safe for consumption and when to re-open areas for fishing” after the massive oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Now that some fisheries have reopened, NRDC is concerned that existing testing and assessment protocols are insufficient to protect human health and safety. The organizations call for the agencies to include chemical monitoring in their seafood analyses, contending that cadmium, copper, lead, and mercury have all been detected in crude oil studies.  

The August 17, 2010, letters request that the agencies (i) “ensure there is comprehensive monitoring of seafood contamination”; (ii) “ensure public disclosure of all seafood monitoring data and methods”; and (iii) “ensure that fishery re-opening criteria protect the most vulnerable populations including children, pregnant women, and subsistence fishing communities.” Among other matters, NRDC notes, “The NOAA protocol for determining the conditions under which a fishery can be re-opened relies on an FDA risk assessment that fails to consider risks to the populations most vulnerable to seafood contamination.”  

According to NRDC, “[t]he FDA risk assessment uses the assumption that the ‘average American’ bodyweight is 176 lbs. This may be appropriate for adult men, but it will not protect smaller segments of the population.” The organization also points to FDA’s use of average consumption levels based on the national diet, which purportedly underestimates actual consumption in subsistence fishing communities. See NRDC Press Release, August 17, 2010.  

In a related development, University of South Florida researchers have reportedly determined that the spilled oil has become toxic to marine organisms in Gulf spawning grounds. They apparently found widespread droplets of oil among the sediments of an underwater canyon important to the lifecycle of commercial fish species. The researchers also claim that phytoplankton, the microscopic plant-like organisms at the base of the marine food chain, was found to be in poor health. See The Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2010.