WASHINGTON — Chemical dispersants sprayed into the Gulf of Mexico to break up the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon disaster do not appear to threaten the safety of seafood in the affected waters, the Food and Drug Administration said this week.
In a letter sent in response to questions from Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of seafood said that chemicals used to break up the slicks are not as dangerous to human health as the oil itself.
FDA scientists do not believe that the chemicals accumulate significantly in the tissue of fish and shellfish, and so, even if the fish absorb the chemicals through gills or other ways, the fish do not retain them, Jeanne Ireland, FDA's assistant commissioner for legislation, wrote to Markey. That means they do not pass up the food chain to humans and are not considered a public health concern, according to the FDA.
BP sprayed 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit on the surface of the gulf and, for the first time, at the wellhead a mile underwater. Dispersants were last used July 19, after BP temporarily capped its leaking well.
The ingredients include propelyne glycol, a chemical permitted by the FDA as a food additive and used in medicines, cosmetics and toothpaste; 2-butoxyethanol, which is found in cleaners, liquid soaps and cosmetics and quickly degrades in the environment; and a proprietary form of sulfonic acid salt, which is "moderately" toxic to freshwater fish and invertebrates but which the manufacturer says degrades quickly. In addition, Corexit contains volatile organic solvents that are made from crude oil and are not considered by the FDA to pose a public health concern because they do not accumulate significantly in the flesh of fish, according to Ireland.
The FDA is not monitoring fish and shellfish for the presence of Corexit because it is not considered a health risk, Ireland said.