Friday, October 14, 2011

FDA's Bad Science: Agency Allows Unsafe Levels of Contaminants in Seafood

Is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looking out for your health? Not nearly enough, According to our new study, published today in the scientific journalEnvironmental Health Perspectives. That’s especially true for young children and pregnant women, as well as anyone who eats a lot of seafood. We found that FDA’s calculation of allowable levels of contaminants in seafood, after BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, was based on outdated science. As a result, FDA’s “safe levels” were not safe for vulnerable populations because they allowed up to 10,000 times too much cancer-causing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) contamination in Gulf seafood.
Unfortunately, FDA’s reliance upon outdated science is not an isolated incident. The agency’s flawed assessment, monitoring and regulation of numerous chemicals exposes us to unnecessary and dangerous amounts of chemicals in our food and household products.
It’s time to change that.
NRDC filed a petition today with FDA demanding that the agency recognize the hazards posed by PAHs seafood and set a health protective standard.  This petition calls for FDA to update its science and fix how it assesses the threat of chemical contaminants so we can trust the safety of our food supply.
My colleague, Dr. Gina Solomon, and I blogged over the past year on the six major flaws in FDA’s risk assessment of PAHs in Gulf seafood: assuming everyone weighs 80kg (176 lbs), underestimating how much seafood Gulf residents eat, ignoring the cancer risk from naphthalene contamination, failing to address the increased vulnerability of pregnant women and children, allowing for a high level of cancer risk, and assuming that the contamination will only last five years. 
This was an unrealistic and outdated assessment, which greatly underestimated the risks from PAH contaminated seafood, particularly for pregnant women and children that eat a lot of seafood.  For our study, we used the most current science and more realistic assumptions - including a separate and tailored assessment of the risks for pregnant women and young children, seafood consumption numbers that better reflect the diets of Gulf residents, and made sure to follow the determination of the National Toxicology Program and the State of California which say that naphthalene can cause cancer - and did our own calculations on the allowable levels of contaminants in seafood. We were surprised by how far off FDA’s numbers really were. FDA accepted 100 to 10,000 times more PAH contamination of seafood than our calculations deemed safe.

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