[News] Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists - BP oil pollution believed to be the likely cause
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 18 11:59:02 EDT 2012
Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists
Eyeless shrimp and fish with lesions are becoming
common, with BP oil pollution believed to be the likely cause.
Dahr Jamail Last Modified: 18 Apr 2012 03:16
New Orleans, LA - "The fishermen have never seen
anything like this," Dr Jim Cowan told Al
Jazeera. "And in my 20 years working on red
snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and
30,000 fish, I've never seen anything like this either."
Dr Cowan, with Louisiana State University's
Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences
started hearing about fish with sores and lesions
from fishermen in November 2010.
Cowan's findings replicate those of others living
along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been
impacted by BP's oil and dispersants.
Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood
processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding
disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and
fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals
released during BP's 2010 oil disaster.
Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of
malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are
ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with
oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking
claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp - and
interviewees' fingers point towards BP's oil
pollution disaster as being the cause.
Tracy Kuhns and her husband Mike Roberts,
commercial fishers from Barataria, Louisiana, are finding eyeless shrimp.
"At the height of the last white shrimp season,
in September, one of our friends caught 400
pounds of these," Kuhns told Al Jazeera while
showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp.
According to Kuhns, at least 50 per cent of the
shrimp caught in that period in Barataria Bay, a
popular shrimping area that was heavily impacted
by BP's oil and dispersants, were eyeless. Kuhns
added: "Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack
eyes, they even lack eye sockets."
Eyeless shrimp, from a catch of 400 pounds of
eyeless shrimp, said to be caught September 22,
2011, in Barataria Bay, Louisiana [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
"Some shrimpers are catching these out in the
open Gulf [of Mexico]," she added, "They are also
catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are
also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their
shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs
that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless
crabs, and crabs with shells that don't have
their usual spikes
they look like they've been burned off by chemicals."
On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig
exploded, and began the release of at least 4.9
million barrels of oil. BP then used at least 1.9
million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants to sink the oil.
Keath Ladner, a third generation seafood
processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also
disturbed by what he is seeing.
"I've seen the brown shrimp catch drop by
two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been
wiped out," Ladner told Al Jazeera. "The shrimp
are immune compromised. We are finding shrimp
with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday."
While on a shrimp boat in Mobile Bay with Sidney
Schwartz, the fourth-generation fisherman said
that he had seen shrimp with defects on their
gills, and "their shells missing around their gills and head".
"We've fished here all our lives and have never
seen anything like this," he added.
Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of
which were lacking at least one of their claws.
Darla Rooks, a lifelong fisherperson from Port
Sulfur, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera she is finding
crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with
all the points burned off so all the spikes on
their shells and claws are gone, misshapen
shells, and crabs that are dying from within
they are still alive, but you open them up and
they smell like they've been dead for a week".
Rooks is also finding eyeless shrimp, shrimp with
abnormal growths, female shrimp with their babies
still attached to them, and shrimp with oiled gills.
"We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking
even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish
without covers over their gills, and others with
large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills."
Rooks, who grew up fishing with her parents, said
she had never seen such things in these waters,
and her seafood catch last year was "ten per cent what it normally is".
"I've never seen this," he said, a statement Al
Jazeera heard from every scientist, fisherman,
and seafood processor we spoke with about the seafood deformities.
Given that the Gulf of Mexico provides more than
40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the
continental US, this phenomenon does not bode
well for the region, or the country.
"The dispersants used in BP's draconian
experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum
distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents
dissolve oil, grease, and rubber," Dr Riki Ott, a
toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez
survivor told Al Jazeera. "It should be no
surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic
to people, something the medical community has long known".
The dispersants are 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.
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are
inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact.
Health impacts can include headaches, vomiting,
diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains,
respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation,
hypertension, central nervous system depression,
neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and
cardiovascular damage. They are also teratogenic
- able to disturb the growth and development of
an embryo or fetus - and carcinogenic.
Cowan believes chemicals named polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released from BP's
submerged oil, are likely to blame for what he is
finding, due to the fact that the fish with
lesions he is finding are from "a wide spatial
distribution that is spatially coordinated with
oil from the Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil
and subsurface oil. A lot of the oil that
impacted Louisiana was also in subsurface plumes,
and we think there is a lot of it remaining on the seafloor".
Marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University
of Georgia published results of her submarine
dives around the source area of BP's oil disaster
in the Nature Geoscience journal.
Her evidence showed massive swathes of oil
covering the seafloor, including photos of
oil-covered bottom dwelling sea creatures.
While showing slides at an American Association
for the Advancement of Science annual conference
in Washington, Joye said: "This is Macondo oil on
the bottom. These are dead organisms because of
oil being deposited on their heads."
Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist and Macarthur Fellow,
has conducted tests on seafood and sediment
samples along the Gulf for chemicals present in
BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
"Tests have shown significant levels of oil
pollution in oysters and crabs along the
Louisiana coastline," Subra told Al Jazeera. "We
have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation."
According to the US Environmental Protection
Agency, PAHs "are a group of semi-volatile
organic compounds that are present in crude oil
that has spent time in the ocean and eventually
reaches shore, and can be formed when oil is burned".
"The fish are being exposed to PAHs, and I was
able to find several references that list the
same symptoms in fish after the Exxon Valdez
spill, as well as other lab experiments,"
explained Cowan. "There was also a paper
published by some LSU scientists that PAH exposure has effects on the genome."
The University of South Florida released the
results of a survey whose findings corresponded
with Cowan's: a two to five per cent infection
rate in the same oil impact areas, and not just
with red snapper, but with more than 20 species
of fish with lesions. In many locations, 20 per
cent of the fish had lesions, and later sampling
expeditions found areas where, alarmingly, 50 per cent of the fish had them.
"I asked a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration] sampler what percentage of fish
they find with sores prior to 2010, and it's one
tenth of one percent," Cowan said. "Which is what
we found prior to 2010 as well. But nothing like
we've seen with these secondary infections and at
this high of rate since the spill."
"What we think is that it's attributable to
chronic exposure to PAHs released in the process
of weathering of oil on the seafloor," Cowan
said. "There's no other thing we can use to
explain this phenomenon. We've never seen anything like this before."
Questions raised by Al Jazeera's investigation remain largely unanswered.
Al Jazeera contacted the office of Louisiana
governor Bobby Jindal, who provided a statement
that said the state continues to test its waters
for oil and dispersants, and that it is testing for PAHs.
"Gulf seafood has consistently tested lower than
the safety thresholds established by the FDA for
the levels of oil and dispersant contamination
that would pose a risk to human health," the
statement reads. "Louisiana seafood continues to
go through extensive testing to ensure that
seafood is safe for human consumption. More than
3,000 composite samples of seafood, sediment and
water have been tested in Louisiana since the start of the spill."
Signs of the impact on the regional ecosystem are
ominous: mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores,
underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless
crabs and shrimp - and scientists and fishermen
point fingers towards BP's oil as being the cause [Keath Ladner]
At the federal government level, the Food and
Drug Administration and Environmental Protection
Agency - both federal agencies which have powers
in the this area - insisted Al Jazeera talk with
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA won't comment to the media because its
involvement in collecting information for an ongoing lawsuit against BP.
BP refused Al Jazeera's request to comment on
this issue for a television interview, but provided a statement that read:
"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."
BP claims that fish lesions are common, and that
prior to the Deepwater Horizon accident there was
documented evidence of lesions in the Gulf of
Mexico caused by parasites and other agents.
The oil giant added:
"As part of the Natural Resource Damage
Assessment, which is led by state and federal
trustees, we are investigating the extent of
injury to natural resources due to the accident.
"BP is funding multiple lines of scientific
investigation to evaluate potential damage to
fish, and these include: extensive seafood
testing programs by the Gulf states; fish
population monitoring conducted by the Louisiana
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Auburn
University and others; habitat and water quality
monitoring by NOAA; and toxicity tests on
regional species. The state and federal Trustees
will complete an injury assessment and the need
for environmental restoration will be determined."
Before and after
But evidence of ongoing contamination continues to mount.
Crustacean biologist Darryl Felder, in the
Department of Biology with the University of
Louisiana at Lafayette is in a unique position.
Felder has been monitoring the vicinity of BP's
blowout Macondo well both before and after the
oil disaster began, because, as he told Al
Jazeera, "the National Science Foundation was
interested in these areas that are vulnerable due to all the drilling".
"So we have before and after samples to compare
to," he added. "We have found seafood with
lesions, missing appendages, and other abnormalities."
Felder also has samples of inshore crabs with
lesions. "Right here in Grand Isle we see lesions
that are eroding down through their shell. We
just got these samples last Thursday and are
studying them now, because we have no idea what
else to link this to as far as a natural event."
According to Felder, there is an even higher
incidence of shell disease with crabs in deeper waters.
"My fear is that these prior incidents of lesions
might be traceable to microbes, and my questions
are, did we alter microbial populations in the
vicinity of the well by introducing this massive
amount of petroleum and in so doing cause
microbes to attack things other than oil?"
One hypothesis he has is that the waxy coatings
around crab shells are being impaired by
anthropogenic chemicals or microbes resulting from such chemicals.
"You create a site where a lesion can occur, and
microbes attack. We see them with big black
lesions, around where their appendages fall off,
and all that is left is a big black ring."
Felder added that his team is continuing to
document the incidents: "And from what we can
tell, there is a far higher incidence we're finding after the spill."
"We are also seeing much lower diversity of
crustaceans," he said. "We don't have the same
number of species as we did before [the spill]."
Felder has tested his samples for oil, but not
found many cases where hydrocarbon traces tested
positive. Instead, he believes what he is seeing
in the deepwater around BP's well is caused from
the "huge amount" of drilling mud used during the
effort to stop the gushing well.
"I was collecting deepwater shrimp with lesions
on the side of their carapace. Under the lesions,
the gills were black. The organ that propels the
water through the gills, it too was jet-black.
That impairs respiratory ability, and has a
negative effect on them. It wasn't hydrocarbons,
but is largely manganese precipitates, which is
really odd. There was a tremendous amount of
drilling mud pumped out with Macondo, so this could be a link."
Some drilling mud and oil well cement slurries
used on oil extraction rigs contains up to 90 per
cent by weight of manganomanganic (manganese) oxide particles.
Felder is also finding "odd staining" of animals
that burrow into the mud that cause stain rings,
and said: "It is consistently mineral deposits,
possibly from microbial populations in [overly] high concentrations."
A direct link
Dr Andrew Whitehead, an associate professor of
biology at Louisiana State University,
co-authored the report Genomic and physiological
footprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on
resident marsh fishes that was published in the
journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2011.
Whitehead's work is of critical importance, as it
shows a direct link between BP's oil and the
negative impacts on the Gulf's food web evidenced
by studies on killifish before, during and after the oil disaster.
"What we found is a very clear, genome-wide
signal, a very clear signal of exposure to the
toxic components of oil that coincided with the
timing and the locations of the oil," Whitehead
told Al Jazeera during an interview in his lab.
According to Whitehead, the killifish is an
important indicator species because they are the
most abundant fish in the marshes, and are known
to be the most important forage animal in their communities.
"That means that most of the large fish that we
like to eat and that these are important
fisheries for, actually feed on the killifish,"
he explained. "So if there were to be a big
impact on those animals, then there would
probably be a cascading effect throughout the
food web. I can't think of a worse animal to
knock out of the food chain than the killifish."
But we may well be witnessing the beginnings of this worst-case scenario.
Whitehead is predicting that there could be
reproductive impacts on the fish, and since the
killifish is a "keystone" species in the food web
of the marsh, "Impacts on those species are more
than likely going to propagate out and effect
other species. What this shows is a very direct
link from exposure to DWH oil and a clear
biological effect. And a clear biological effect
that could translate to population level long-term consequences."
Back on shore, troubled by what he had been
seeing, Keath Ladner met with officials from the
US Food and Drug Administration and asked them to
promise that the government would protect him
from litigation if someone was made sick from eating his seafood.
"They wouldn't do it," he said.
"I'm worried about the entire seafood industry of
the Gulf being on the way out," he added grimly.
'Tar balls in their crab traps'
Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer, as well as a
marine and oyster biologist, has "great concern"
about the hundreds of dolphin deaths he has seen
in the region since BP's disaster began, which he
feels are likely directly related to the BP oil disaster.
"Adult dolphins' systems are picking up whatever
is in the system out there, and we know the oil
is out there and working its way up the food
chain through the food web - and dolphins are at the top of that food chain."
Cake explained: "The chemicals then move into
their lipids, fat, and then when they are
pregnant, their young rely on this fat, and so
it's no wonder dolphins are having developmental issues and still births."
Cake, who lives in Mississippi, added: "It has
been more than 33 years since the 1979 Ixtoc-1
oil disaster in Mexico's Bay of Campeche, and the
oysters, clams, and mangrove forests have still
not recovered in their oiled habitats in seaside
estuaries of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has been
23 years since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster
in Alaska, and the herring fishery that failed in
the wake of that disaster has still not returned."
Cake believes we are still in the short-term impact stage of BP's oil disaster.
"I will not be alive to see the Gulf of Mexico
recover," said Cake, who is 72 years old.
"Without funding and serious commitment, these
things will not come back to pre-April 2010 levels for decades."
The physical signs of the disaster continue.
"We're continuing to pull up oil in our nets,"
Rooks said. "Think about losing everything that
makes you happy, because that is exactly what
happens when someone spills oil and sprays
dispersants on it. People who live here know
better than to swim in or eat what comes out of our waters."
Khuns and her husband told Al Jazeera that
fishermen continue to regularly find tar balls in
their crab traps, and hundreds of pounds of tar
balls continue to be found on beaches across the region on a daily basis.
Meanwhile Cowan continues his work, and remains
concerned about what he is finding.
"We've also seen a decrease in biodiversity in
fisheries in certain areas. We believe we are now
seeing another outbreak of incidence increasing,
and this makes sense, since waters are starting
to warm again, so bacterial infections are really
starting to take off again. We think this is a
problem that will persist for as long as the oil is stored on the seafloor."
Felder wants to continue his studies, but now is
up against insufficient funding.
Regarding his funding, Cowan told Al Jazeera: "We
are up against social and economic challenges
that hamper our ability to get our information
out, so the politics have been as daunting as the
problem [we are studying] itself. But my funding
is not coming from a source that requires me to be quiet."
Follow Dahr Jamail on Twitter: @DahrJamail
Read more about the scientists in this article, and their findings:
Dr Darryl Felder, Department of Biology,
University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Runs a
research lab that studies the biology of marine
crustaceans. Dr Felder has been monitoring the
seafloor in the vicinity of BP's blow-out Macondo
oil-well both before and after the oil disaster
began. He was studying samples from the seafloor
in the Macondo area pre-spill via funding from
the National Science Foundation, which provided
him a grant to log the effects of all the
drilling in the area. His funding now comes from
the Gulf Research Initiative (GRI), which is
funded by BP. Read his full biography here.
Dr Jim Cowan with Louisiana State University's
Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences
has been studying Gulf seafood, specifically red
snapper, for more than 20 years. Funding is
primarily via LSU, although LSU has also received
funding via GRI. Read his full biography here.
Dr Andrew Whitehead, LSU, his lab conducts
experiments and studies on Evolutionary and
Ecological Genomics. He recently published
"Genomic and physiological footprint of the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill on resident marsh
fishes" in the National Academy of Sciences. Much
of his funding also comes from the Gulf Research
Initiative. Read his full biography here.
Brief summary of scientists' findings/studies:
Felder: Studies carried out from January 2010 to
present in BP's Macondo well area. Found
abnormalities in shrimp post-spill, whereas pre-spill found none.
Cowan: Studies carried out from Nov 2010-present,
from west Louisiana to west Florida, from coast
to 250km out. Found lesions/sores/infections in
20 species of fish, as many as 50 per cent fish
in some samples impacted. Pre spill levels were 1/10 of one per cent of fish.
Whitehead: Species such as the Gulf Killifish, in
and around the Gulf of Mexico, will continue to
be subject to negative effects of the BP oil
spill disaster of 2010. The Killifish, which
researchers consider a good indicator of water
quality in the Gulf of Mexico, is showing signs
that the oil spill is having a negative impact on
its health. Tracked killifish for the first four
months after spill across oil-impacted areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.
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