The Natural Resources Defense Council, an Overbrook grantee, sent letters yesterday to the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, demanding more stringent data and criteria for the safe consumption of Gulf seafood. The letters, signed by almost two dozen Gulf Coast organizations, also asked for full disclosure of everything the government agencies discover and decide about Gulf seafood in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
NRDC's letters come only a couple of weeks after the federal government declared much of the oil gone, either through skimming, use of dispersant chemicals or natural evaporation. Non-government scientists say that assessment is not completely incorrect, but does depend on consensus around the definition of the word "gone." Even non-scientists had reason to question the government statement after spending a spring and summer watching millions of gallons gush unfettered into the Gulf. Surface oil that broke up and sank to deeper waters may be out of sight, but is it truly "gone?"
Scientists who were not involved in the government study are currently doing their own research. Marine scientist Charles Hopkinson, asked by CNN about NOAA's statement said, "That is just absolutely incorrect in the opinion of the scientists."
When oil sinks its deleterious effects may not be as visible, but they are equally destructive. Oil degrades more slowly at colder temperatures found below the surface, and plankton at the base of the food web are vulnerable, affecting every step along the food chain.
Scientists at the Universities of Georgia and Florida have found evidence of oil in the soil of an undersea canyon in the Florida panhandle, as well as poisoned plankton. The next step in their research will be to determine whether that oil can be linked to the BP spill.
In the meantime, shrimping season is open and new fishing areas are being reopened every day. Can we trust government pronouncements that the seafood is safe to eat, when NOAA asserts most of the oil of the months-long spill is "gone?" NRDC, along with Gulf Coast communities, is making sure we all reach agreement, at least on the word "safe," when it comes to seafood.