N.C. scientists keep watch for oil spill
June 24, 2010By Business Journal Staff
North Carolina fisheries scientists are collecting samples of fish and shellfish that they can use if contaminants from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reach North Carolina waters. The data collected now can be used for baseline background comparisons of seafood harvested in North Carolina.
“We still believe there is a very low probability that our state will see any significant effects from the oil spill, but just in case, we’re collecting these samples and securing them for analysis at a later date,” said Secretary Dee Freeman of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) in a press release.
Biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries are collecting fish, shrimp and crabs from different coastal rivers, sounds and ocean waters of the state. Environmental specialists with the Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Quality Section of the N.C. Division of Environmental Health are collecting oysters and clams.
Earlier this week, UNCW researchers began collecting samples of ocean water, sediment and fish at Wrightsville Beach as well. They plan to collect samples along the coast from Cape Hatteras to Sunset Beach.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill released extremely large amounts of crude oil. The oil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are chemical hazards. These contaminants can accumulate in seafood at levels that can cause illness. The presence of petroleum taint can also render seafood unfit for human consumption.
Additionally, fish or shellfish exposure to high concentrations of these toxins, either directly or through eating contaminated plants or animals, may reduce their growth and reproduction, affecting populations. These effects can last for many years, depending on the concentration of oil.
Should state authorities begin to see impacts in North Carolina waters from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the fish and shellfish samples collected now can be tested and used as a baseline to compare to samples collected in North Carolina following observed impact from the oil spill to help determine the extent of contamination.
If there are contamination levels high enough to cause a health risk, could help fisheries officials determine if they should close certain waters to seafood harvesting and fishing. The information would also offer proof of environmental impact, leading to economic impact, should the state seek financial compensation for damages from the oil industry, according to NCDENR.