The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has raised concern about the seafood safety in the region.
Seafood can be contaminated after an oil spill in three ways: crude oil can coat seafood or be incorporated into fish or shellfish, making it smell or taste oily and be unsafe to eat. As the oil breaks down in the environment, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the oil enter the food chain. PAHs can cause DNA damage and cancer. Invertebrates (such as oysters, shrimp, and crabs) are less efficient at excreting these chemicals, so they are most likely to be contaminated. Toxic metals, such as mercury, cadmium, and lead are also found in crude oil. Although only trace amounts are present in the oil itself, these metals bioaccumulate in the food chain and the peak levels of metal contamination will likely occur months or years from now in swordfish, tuna, King mackerel, and marine mammals. These metals can cause damage to the kidneys and central nervous system, particularly during pregnancy. Read more: Opinion: Seafood needs better science