Toxic Compounds Could Flow Through Food Chain Long After Oil Stops Flowing

WASHINGTON (July 13, 2010) – Even as BP attempts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf with a new containment strategy, concerns are growing that oil and other toxic compounds like arsenic could continue to flow through the marine and human food chain for months or longer. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today asked the Food and Drug Administration to answer questions on the effects the BP oil spill might have on the food chain, including new concerns that arsenic could be infiltrating the marine ecosystem and food chain in the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Markey also asks whether FDA is tracking the possibility that highly mobile fish that have been contaminated are currently being caught outside areas closed to fishing.
I am concerned that the mixture of oil, dispersants, arsenic and other toxic compounds are having effects on seafood that may not be detectable for months,” writes Rep. Markey in the letter to FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg. Rep. Markey chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is leading the congressional investigation into the BP oil spill.

The letter can be found HERE .

Researchers have uncovered droplets of oil inside crab larvae harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, which Rep. Markey writes is “particularly disconcerting because these larvae are a source of food for numerous aquatic species and this is therefore the first sign that hydrocarbons have entered into the food web.” The invasion of oil into the base level of the Gulf food chain means that, “despite fishery closures in areas that are known to be contaminated by oil, contamination could still be spreading into the human food chain as predators eat oil-tainted species, and then travel to areas that are not themselves closed to fishing,” Rep. Markey writes.

Another concern is arsenic. Arsenic is present in both seawater and in oil. Under normal circumstance, minerals at the ocean floor attract arsenic, burying it safely underground. Rep. Markey notes that a recent report suggests that oil, in addition to adding its own levels of arsenic to the Gulf, provides a potential barrier to this natural arsenic filtering system. “Thus the effect of the oil is two-fold, increasing the amount of arsenic present and clogging the natural mechanism the ocean uses to filter out the toxic compound,” writes Rep. Markey.

Rep. Markey asks FDA to explain their monitoring systems for these challenges, and what federal standards are currently in place for how much arsenic can be present in seafood to be consumed by humans. Rep. Markey also asks the FDA to respond to his May 25th letter to the agency, which has gone unanswered. That letter can be found HERE and asked FDA about dispersants entering the food chain.

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