Shrimp safe after oil spill—Tulane study

November 7, 2014

Arthur Nead
Phone: 504-247-1443


Tulane scientists say Gulf shrimp are safe to eat. Photograph by Paula Burch Celentano

Eating shrimp from an area of the Gulf of Mexico impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 poses no acute health risks or increased cancer risks, says a study by Tulane University scientists published in Environmental Health Perspectives. A team led by Mark Wilson, research assistant professor of Global Environmental Health Sciences in the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, analyzed shrimp for oil contaminants and surveyed Vietnamese-Americans working as commercial shrimpers in southeast Louisiana.

“Through communication with community liaisons we were able to conduct a tailored risk assessment within a ‘sensitive subpopulation’ that served to demonstrate the safety of shrimp harvested from the Gulf of Mexico and addressed concerns that were meaningful to the community as a whole,” says Wilson.

Community members directly involved in the seafood industry are likely among the heaviest consumers of seafood, say the researchers. The Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation in New Orleans East provided a list of residents who received the survey, with questions including: how often do you eat shrimp? what is a typical portion size? and how are they prepared?; as well as basic demographic questions about gender, age, and weight. One hundred fifteen respondents completed the survey.

“We found that 81 percent of our survey respondents reduced the amount of shrimp they consumed for at least 5 months following the oil spill. Furthermore, 43 percent of our survey respondents reduced shrimp consumption for at least 12 months,” say the researchers.

When the spill occurred concerns were expressed that seafood would be contaminated with high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and pose health hazards including increased cancer risks for consumers.

However, shrimp collected and tested by the researchers were found to have very low levels of PAHs.

“The very low levels of PAHs detected in our cross-sectional sample of shrimp did not result in excess risk from dietary PAH exposure within our study population,” says Wilson.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000