Aug 242010

Despite  the official spill over mantra regarding the BP Gulf oil disaster, it is becoming abundantly clear that it is anything but over as more and more evidence mounts of oxygen dead zones, oil and dispersant in seafood and the chemical stench and oil residue that is still painfully visible along and in the gulf.  Not only is the damage to the environment ongoing, but the full impact on human health will be unknown for years.  However, there is every reason to be very concerned, particularly for our most vulnerable populations including pregnant women and children (something I pointed out back in early June).   Dr. Gina Solomon of the NRDC explains further why this is so crucially important and why we need to change our assumptions about how we view this problem:

The FDA used faulty assumptions (described below) to determine how much contamination is OK to eat in Gulf seafood. This means that they set the bar too high and lower levels of contaminants could pose a risk to vulnerable populations – like pregnant women, children and communities who eat a lot of Gulf seafood.

  • By using an adult average body weight of 176 pounds the FDA does not adequately protect children, or even many women

The average body weight of a 4-6 year old child is about 47 pounds and half of American women weigh less than about 155 pounds. These smaller people would be getting a bigger dose of contaminants per pound of bodyweight than the FDA is estimating they’re getting. Not all of us are big men, after all.

  • FDA fails to account for the increased vulnerability of the developing fetus and young children

Children are particularly vulnerable to contaminants in seafood because their bodies are still developing, they ingest a larger portion of contaminants relative to their size, and they often don’t process chemicals as well as adults.  Human epidemiologic studies have found that fetuses can’t clear the genetic damage from PAHs as easily, and also that babies may be at increased risk of neurological effects from these chemicals.

There is nothing new in this one size fits all approach to measuring human impact.  For years Reference Man, who was

was born in 1974, but he remains perpetually between 20 and 30 years old. He stands 5 feet seven inches (170 cm), weighs 154 pounds (70 kilograms) and is a Caucasian from Western Europe or North America.

was used to assess the impact of X-rays on the human body.  It apparently didn’t occur to researchers that what was good  for Reference Man might be lethal to women or children.  It is unfortunate to see that ignorance once again playing out in data assumptions about the gulf.

In addition to Solomon’s blog, to fully understand what is happening in the Gulf, I highly recommend the ongoing coverage by Alexander Higgins Blog, this article on Sign of the Times and BP Oil Slick and Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, Kate Sheppard and Julia Whitty.

 August 24, 2010  Posted by on August 24, 2010

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