Even the people who make their living off the seafood-rich waters of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish have a hard time swallowing the government’s assurances that fish harvested in the shallow, muddy waters just offshore must be safe to eat because they don’t smell too bad.
Fresh splotches of chocolate-colored crude, probably globules broken apart by toxic chemical dispersants sprayed by BP with government approval, still wash up almost daily on protective boom and in marshes in reopened fishing grounds east of the Mississippi River.
When shrimp season opens in a couple of weeks and fisherman Rusty Graybill drags his nets across the mucky bottom, he worries that he’ll also collect traces of oil and dispersants — and that even if his catch doesn’t smell, buyers and consumers will turn up their noses.
“If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?” asked Graybill, a 28-year-old commercial oyster, blue crab and shrimp angler who grew up fishing the marshes of St. Bernard. “I wouldn’t feed it to you or my family. I’m afraid someone’s going to get sick.”
Louisiana wildlife regulators on Friday reopened state-controlled waters east of the Mississippi to harvesting of shrimp and “fin fish” such as redfish, mullet and trout. Smell tests on dozens of specimens from the area revealed barely traceable amounts of toxins, the federal Food and Drug Administration said.
The tests were done not by chemical analysis, but by scientists trained to detect the smell of oil and dispersant.
I cannot imagine that anything else I read this month can possibly top this.
And here’s the reason why the FDA has decided to go with smell tests:
Chemical tests on fish for oil-related compounds are routine, but no such test exists for detecting levels of dispersant, said Meghan Scott, FDA spokeswoman. Federal scientists are developing one, she said. It wasn’t clear when one would be ready, though.
You follow the logic, right? If we don’t have a reliable chemical test for dispersants now, why wait till we do have one before declaring that fishing should resume? And once we’re cutting corners in such cavalier fashion, why bother with the chemical tests for oil-related compounds that we do actually have? If you can’t see it, and even trained scientists can’t smell it, how can it possibly do you any harm?
(If someone eats any of the seafood, and thinks they’re sick, perhaps the FDA can, as a public service, lay on scientists who can smell whatever is necessary to determine that it wasn’t the seafood?)
And, you know, there’s really no reason to worry. FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg (we’re working hard to confirm what kind of doctor she is, and whether she possibly has a doctorate in smelling) is on the job, and knows “we have to remain vigilant.”