SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—As the oil spill has spread in the Gulf of Mexico, federal seafood toxicologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been racing to sample clean sites ahead of the advancing slick. Now the sampling effort is entering a new phase as scientists begin testing seafood from oiled areas.
"We're scrambling," said physiologist Walton W. Dickhoff sitting at his desk here at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. "So far we've just been ahead of the oil spill," he says, to try to establish baseline contamination rates before the crude hits. Since 28 April, experts here have analyzed 60 samples, mostly red snapper, sent to them by gulf scientists. They are looking for oil and the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the most worrisome of toxins in oil. As expected, all but one showed no contaminants, and "that one is almost certainly a false positive," said Dickhoff.
Now NOAA is planning to take samples from shellfish and finned fish from oiled areas, using the most recent data available, while continuing to stay ahead of the advancing slick.