About Those Beaches And That Seafood…

BP announced on Friday that it is time to scale back clean up and focus on restoration.  The Fed on Thursday expanded its open fishery areas.  States are touting reopened beaches and fisheries.  Ed Overton, a professor of environmental studies at Louisiana State University points to “Mother Nature’s work” in breaking down the patchy oil.

And it is true, looking at pictures of the same recently coated stretches of waters and shorelines, they now look startlingly clear of oil.  An amazing feat considering the newly released numbers by government scientist put the total for BP’s Macondo spill at 4.9 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) making it the world’s largest accidental release of oil into marine waters.

But as good as those pictures look … You might want to know a little bit more about dispersants and our governments testing procedures before you head out to enjoy those newly opened beaches or order up that Gulf Shrimp dinner.

Because clear doesn’t mean clean.  Or free from oil, dispersants or other toxins.

Hugh Kaufman, senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (and lead investigator of the environmental cover-up by EPA and OSHA at the WTC), points out – the toxic mix that lies beneath the gulf waters has entered our food chain and is having a direct human impact.

And least you think Mr. Kaufman is a rogue element exaggerating the risks to our eco-system and humans, only consider that he is far from being a lone wolf.  As USAToday’s Gulf oil spill released toxic, tough-to-track chemicals points out, other scientist are more than concerned:

Chemist Kim Anderson of Oregon State University in Corvallis…

Anderson heads a team tracking just how much of these worst toxins— organic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — have been dumped in the water by the spill. They’ll be measured at four sites off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Earlier samples from Louisiana alone, showed that by June 7, Gulf of Mexico water concentrations of the toxic chemicals had risen 40 times higher than levels on May 1, although the water looked clear of oil.

Jeffrey Short of the conservation group, Oceana

The dispersant has done its job, acting like dish soap on bacon grease, congealing the oil into tiny droplets that microbes can begin eating. “That means they are in the food chain.” Short says. “Whether people will want to swim or eat food from water that looks clear but has high concentrations of (toxins) will be interesting,” she says.

Another open question is the issue of photo-enhanced toxicity from the chemicals, says Short, a former NOAA scientist who worked on the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill’s aftermath. In the marshes, oil may be cleaned from foliage and end up buried by Mississippi mud, where it ends up near the roots of growing plants. “The toxins get inside the surfaces of cells and release oxygen in response to sunlight,” he says, burning up the plants from the inside. Mangrove swamps in Panama were hit hard by this reaction after a 1986 spill, and the effects are still seen today, according to Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution scientists.

Additional concerned scientist via HuffPost‘s Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain:<!

Corexit is in the water column, just as we thought, and it is entering the bodies of animals. And it’s probably having a lethal impact there,” said Susan Shaw, director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute. The dispersant, she said, is like ” a delivery system” for the oil. [snip]

One particular concern: “The properties that facilitate the movement of dispersants through oil also make it easier for them to move through cell walls, skin barriers, and membranes that protect vital organs, underlying layers of skin, the surfaces of eyes, mouths, and other structures.”

…[Robert] Diaz, the marine scientist from William and Mary, spoke at a lunchtime briefing about dispersants on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Dispersant, he explained, “doesn’t make the oil go away, it just puts it from one part of the ecosystem into another.” [snip]

Diaz warned of the danger posed to bluefin tuna — and also to “the signature resident species in the Gulf, the shrimp.” He noted that all three species of Gulf shrimp spawn offshore before moving back into shallow estuaries.

And from the Sydney Morning Hearld Experts baffled by 4 million lost barrels:

Professor [James] Cowan [of LSU] said that two weeks ago his crew had detected a layer of something thick underwater, then sent a remote-controlled submarine down to look at it. They saw tiny globs that were the same orangeish colour as the oil on the surface. He said that, in deeper water, cold temperatures would slow the breakdown of the oil and it could affect worms, fish, crabs and corals.

One study from a Tulane University researcher found what seemed to be a worrying snapshot of what this missing oil is doing. Professor Caz Taylor looked at baby blue crabs and saw something odd under their translucent shells: orange blobs. She speculates that the crabs may have moulted in the midst of oil or dispersant and trapped some of it literally inside themselves.

”The worrying thing is that we’re seeing these droplets everywhere that we’re sampling,” from Galveston Bay in Texas to Pensacola in Florida, she said.

Even a NEWS RELEASE ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH warns beachgoers:

Do not use harsh detergents, solvents or other chemicals to wash oil from skin or clothing; they may promote absorption of the oil through the skin.

So if you come into contact with the oil, you have to be careful what soap you use to wash it off.  And yet the State and Federal governments are reopening some fishing areas as noted in theLATimes:

We are confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from waters being opened … is safe, and that gulf-seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish and shrimp that will be coming out of this area,” said FDA chief Margaret Hamburg, who has been leading extensive testing of gulf seafood by chemical analysis and human sniffing.

So does that testing of seafood include testing for dispersants? And not just the fish in the gulf.  Most fish are great long distance travelers, so shouldn’t we start testing all fish? Apparently this administration thinks dispersant testing is not necessary.  Not for gulf fish.  Not for any fish.

Though NOAA’s Dr. Roberston (video below) indicates that he would like to test for dispersants.  Its on their list of things they would like to know more about. But it is not part of the President’s directive so they don’t.  Wow!

So neither the FDA nor NOAA are testing for the 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used in the gulf on a daily basis for nearly 2 months because the Presidents directive does not ask them to.  They have concerns about bio-massing of the dispersants a know toxin and carcinogen, but still feel confident in claiming the seafood is safe to eat !!!

One might be forgiven for concluding that testing seafood like the approval of dispersant is strictly pro forma. Despite the Presidential directive to make their use “rare”, Documents indicate heavy use of dispersants in gulf oil spill:

…the Coast Guard granted requests to use them 74 times over 54 days, and to use them on the surface and deep underwater at the well site. The Coast Guard approved every request submitted by BP or local Coast Guard commanders

And if you are wondering why haven’t you haven’t heard more and sooner about these issues with the dispersants?

As NPR explains By Hiring Gulf Scientists, BP May Be Buying Silence:

University of South Alabama’s Bob Shipp says BP’s lawyers tried to hire his whole Department of Marine Sciences to do research for them. Under the deal, the scientists could disclose their results only if BP said so. Otherwise, they’d have to keep it secret for three years.

“They wanted the oversight authority to keep us from publishing things if, for whatever reason, they didn’t want them to be published,” Shipp says. “People were muzzled as part of the contract. They were muzzled, and certainly it’s not something we could live with.”

But professors from some universities, like LSU, Texas A&M and the University of Southern Mississippi, did accept BP offers. After a blast of public criticism, however, the Mississippi professors had a change of heart and backed out.

And this isn’t just BP arming up in response to the Justice Department’s investigation into what happened to cause the spill.  As we have all seen and anyone who has worked for a corporation knows, the lawyers immediately came into play within minutes of the rig explosion.  The number one job of any CEO and it’s employees is the health and well-being of The Corporation.

But the job of government is different.  It is suppose to be about protecting its citizens and their interests.

Was the use of dispersants the right choice?  Is eating seafood safe?  Is walking or swimming in the Gulf worth the risk of contamination?  Unfortunately, we may not know the full answers to these questions until some point in the distant future.  In the mean time, we will all be making innumerable decisions in relation to the spill that will affect our health for good and bad.

Our government needs to do its job to ensure that we all are provided with the most complete information possible.  And that the health and well-being of any corporation is secondary to the health and well-being of our nation and it’s population.

I think we can all agree, we deserve no less.


For more from Scientists Deeply Concerned About BP Disaster’s Long-Term Impact.

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