Two years ago today, the catastrophic blowout at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform began to spill what would ultimately amount to 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and now fisherman are concerned that the spill’s repercussions are showing up in seafood as genetic deformities and chemical damage. Fisherman in the area report a continued, consistent variety of abnormalities, including shrimp with no eyes (or eye-sockets), crabs missing one or both claws and underdeveloped fish (with lesions in some instances). As fishermen and scientists react with growing concern about the trend, BP and the FDA continue to insist that Gulf seafood is safe for human consumption.
Eyewitness accounts from those who have been fishing in the Gulf for decades, alongside reports from scientists who have studied Gulf fish populations pre- and post-spill give a reasonable indicator that the abnormalities are tied to the release of chemicals in the oil, or the controversial dispersant used in an attempt to clear the enormous spill. Dr. Jim Cowan of Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences told Al Jazeera that prior to 2010, the NOAA reported around one tenth of one percent of fish in the area presented with sores, “but nothing like we’ve seen with these secondary infections and at this high of rate since the spill.”
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a volatile compound found in crude oil, have been detected in fish and crab populations, as well as in marshlands around the coast. OnEarth describes that PAHs have been linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological impacts, and liver disease. Dixon believes that the PAH causes damage to the sealife, leaving them vulnerable to microbial infections, resulting in lesions, and notes that similar symptoms were reported in fish following Exxon Valdez.
The dispersant, meanwhile, contains solvents, known to cause an array of health problems from skin and respiratory irritation to cardiovascular and neurotoxic effects. Al Jazeera speculates “the dispersant is also known to be mutagenic, a disturbing fact that could be evidenced in the seafood deformities. Shrimp, for example, have a life-cycle short enough that two to three generations have existed since BP’s disaster began, giving the chemicals time to enter the genome,” and from there we see shrimp without eye sockets — a view reflected by Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network.
BP, inevitably, claims that the seafood is all fine: “Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is among the most tested in the world, and, according to the FDA and NOAA, it is as safe now as it was before the accident.” The Huffington Post, however, cites a findings published by Environmental Health Perspectives which found that the FDA allowed “up to 10,000 times too much contamination” and didn’t identify the risks to children and pregnant women posed by contaminated seafood. Additionally, the study charged that the FDA’s “scientific standards [in 2010] were less stringent” than after the Exxon Valdez spill.
The growing presence of the irreparable damage done of the Gulf eco-system by Deepwater Horizon comes at a time when leaks, spills and sheens continue throughout the area. As the Gulf Restoration Network’s Aaorn Viles pointed out, in the past month alone Louisiana has seen the explosion of a natural gas pipeline, the appearance of a 10 mile sheen between two Shell Oil rigs which Shell vehemently denies responsibility for, a 2000 gallon spill of fuel oil into the Mississippi and confirmation that the Gulf of Mexico’s Taylor Oil Wells have been leaking since 2004.
While BP has just approved an additional $64 million in compensation for Gulf Coast residents whose compensation checks were deemed to be inadequate, the ongoing effects of the spill, and the persistence of additional damage from oil and gas exploration and production could cause damage to a generations old industry which monies simply will not compensate for. The health impacts, on the other hand, are clearly still to be realized.
Images Screen Captured from YouTube Video: Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists by Al Jazeera