That question seems to linger over residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, even after BP announced that they had successfully capped the blown out oil well that once held the remains of the Deepwater Horizon. But as the cap holds the oil back underground, what invisible force continues to hold back the tourism and trade of the Gulf Coast?
When you speak to BP or the Federal government, they will, nearly in unison, tell you that the oil spill is over and that 75% or more of the oil has been recovered or has evaporated. But according to some reports, like the one in The Wall Street Journal, some researchers think that the numbers do not add up.
It becomes increasingly difficult to figure out how much oil has been recovered and how much has been released by the leaking well. By some estimates, the spill is as large as 4.9 million barrels (205.8million gallons), but the official numbers posted by the National Incident Command are nowhere near that number. In fact, on August 17th, the NIC reported that they had recovered or burned 35.8 million gallons, and if you add that rough estimates of the 25% of the spill that supposedly evaporated, that still leaves an estimated 110 million gallons of oil to be accounted for out in the Gulf of Mexico.
So where did it go? That is the question that is sitting on everyone’s mind. Even with repeated statements from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality that seafood is safe, like in this press release from August 17, people continue to question whether the food, and waters, are truly safe.
These people are not just anyone, but experts in the field of medicine are coming to some conclusions about the oil spill at large. In an article released on August 16, the Journal of the American Medical Association authors Gina Solomon, MD, MPH and Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, stated that the oil from the oil spill posed a direct threat from inhalation and dermal (skin) contact, but also through indirect threats in seafood and through mental health. The evidence of a threat to Coastal residents continues to mount as additional reports from other respected institutions like the University of Georgia, quoted in several articles, including the Wall Street Journal report, mentioned above.
So is it safe to eat seafood from the Gulf of Mexico? It really depends on which sources you trust. Each agency has a stake in whether their claim is accurate. The Mississippi state government needs to see tax revenues rise, and that can only happen if tourism returns to the state. The federal government needs to be seen as making real progress as we move in to the November elections and the control the House of Representatives lies on who can provide a more effective government. The newspapers have a vested interest in articles and headlines that pull viewers and readers, and researchers can use prominent studies to make a name for themselves, thereby furthering their own careers.
In the end, the question of whether seafood is safe to eat is just as important a questions as which source of information do you trust more.