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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAB Professor and Team Assess Seafood Consumption after Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Dr. Nalini Sathiakumar, professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, examined the risks in consumption of seafood following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by studying 110 Mobile County schoolchildren, ranging from kindergarten through fourth grade. UAB co-investigators are department colleagues Mr. Mark D. Leader, program coordinator; Dr. Ligong Chen, statistician; and Dr. Meghan Tipre, postdoctoral fellow; as well as Dr. Anne Turner-Henson, professor in the School of Nursing.


[Photo: Dr. Nalini Sathiakumar]

The researchers compared data gleaned from parents of children in the Coastal Group (made up of 55 students from three schools located 20 or fewer miles from the Alabama Gulf Coast) with data from parents of children in the Inland Group (made up of 55 students from three schools located 20 or more miles from the Alabama Gulf Coast). They also assessed levels of concern (LOCs) regarding particular chemicals contained in crude oil with heavy metals, in addition to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS).

Study results indicate that “the Coastal Group ate more seafood consisting primarily of crustaceans (62 percent versus 42 percent, p = 0.04) and fin fish (78 percent versus 58 percent, p = 0.02) from the Gulf of Mexico compared with the Inland Group, while the Inland Group ate more fin fish not found in the Gulf of Mexico (62 percent versus 33 percent, p < 0.01). In the post-oil spill time period, both groups substantially reduced their consumption of seafood. On average, the Coastal Group ate two or more seafood meals per week, while the Inland Group ate one meal or none per week; these frequency patterns persisted in the post oil-spill period. Comparison of the estimated LOCs with contaminant levels detected in the seafood tested by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, post-oil spill, found that the levels of PAHs, arsenic, and DOSS in seafood were 1 to 2 orders of magnitude below the LOCs calculated in this study. Levels of methyl mercury (MeHg) in the seafood tested pre- and post- oil spill were higher than the estimated LOCs suggesting presence of higher levels of MeHg in seafood independent of the oil spill.”

Additionally, greater seafood consumption was discovered among the Coastal Group study subjects than in overall estimates presented by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which utilizes both physical exams and interviews in its research. “Risk characterization based on the LOCs indicated no increase in risk of exposure despite higher seafood consumption rates among the study population compared with the general population,” determined Dr. Sathiakumar.

“Post-Deepwater Horizon Blowout Seafood Consumption Patterns and Community-Specific Levels of Concern for Selected Chemicals among Children in Mobile County, Alabama” was published online in August 2016 in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

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