[News] Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists - BP oil pollution believed to be the likely cause

Anti-Imperialist News 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.

Eyeless shrimp

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.

BP's chemicals?

"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."

Official response

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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