HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Health Effects of Gulf Oil Spill Concerns Task Force

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force is conducting hearings throughout the Gulf region to gather public and stakeholder input into its Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Strategy, due for completion on October 4, 2011. To judge by the meeting in New Orleans on Monday, concern about the lingering health effects of the spill, and skepticism about government studies that give seafood from the region a clean bill of health may become a repeated theme.

At the meeting, the Food and Drug Administration reported that seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat. After testing 80,000 samples in both federal and state waters, levels of cancer-causing and non-cancer causing hydrocarbons levels found were 100 to 1000 times below levels dangerous to human health. The results of the testing can be found here. In the meantime, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Department of Health and Human Services are studying effects of hydrocarbons on the health of humans exposed to the oil. Their Gulf Long-Term Follow-up Study is billed in NIH brochures as the “largest study ever about the health effects of an oil spill, it seems worth watching. The agencies are actively seeking current and former Gulf clean-up workers to take part.

Public comment was more disturbing than the government testimony. One witness accused the FDA seafood safety study of being a “sham” and offered anecdotes that people were being tested positive for high levels hydrocarbons – but offered no real evidence or proof. Many others offered views that also reflected a mistrust of the government's safety assurances. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who chaired the meeting, reinforced that the purpose of the Task Force hearing was to gather information – but added it was also seeking to inform the public - and with ten more meetings to be held From Florida to Texas, the public and the Task Force will have plenty of chances to learn. - MM

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