Printer Friendly

FDA risk assessment of seafood contamination after the BP oil spill: the correspondence section is a public forum and, as such, is not peer-reviewed. EHP is not responsible for the accuracy, currency, or reliability of personal opinion expressed herein; it is the sole responsibility of the authors. EHP neither endorses nor disputes their published commentary.

In response to the BP oil spill of 2010, Rotkin-Ellman et al. (2012) provide a thoughtful assessment of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) risk criteria to protect vulnerable populations from exposure to poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) through seafood consumption (FDA 2010a). The FDA and the interagency partners involved in developing the seafood safety risk assessment for the BP oil spill shared the authors' goal of establishing criteria that would he protective of all affected populations. Although Rotkin-Ellman et al. present a well-intentioned case for determining PAH levels for at-risk populations, their interpretation of several factors involved in the derivation of levels of concern (LOC) differs substantially from those used in the BP oil spill risk assessment.

Human health risk assessments for environmental chemical contaminants are undertaken to develop exposure levels that are believed to be safe or associated with negligible risk. Uncertainty is inherent in any risk assessment process due to interspecies, intraspecies, and/or high-to-low dose extrapolations required for risk estimation. As a result, chemical risk assessments tend to be conservative with intentional bias on the side of safety. Unnecessarily conservative risk criteria, however, can have unintended negative consequences for human health and Society. The role of risk management is to balance what is known and unknown about a particular risk with the interests of public health protection and societal values.

Development of the seafood safety risk assessment after the BP oil spill was a collaborative, highly iterative, and multiagency process including departments of health from the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The criteria agreed upon for PAHs with cancer end points provide conservative estimates of contamination levels and consumption rates that, if sustained for a period of 5 years, may result in a upper bound consumer lifetime cancer risk of 1 x [10.sup.-5]. The agreed upon criteria for PAHs with noncancer end points are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reference doses for daily exposure of general and sensitive populations expected to have no significant risk of adverse effect during a lifetime of exposure (U.S. EPA 2000).

A lifetime cancer risk level of 1 x [10.sup.-5] implies a risk management decision to accept no more than a conservative estimate of one additional cancer case attributable to PAH-contaminated seafood in a population of 100,000 people. This risk level is within the acceptable range of values (i.e., 1 x [10.sup.-5] to 1 x [10.sup.-6]) observed by public health risk managers (U.S. EPA 1998a, 2000). Bias toward safety is also inherent in the derivation and selection of a benzo[a]pyrene cancer potency factor (7.3 mg/kg/day) based on the 95% upper confidence limit of the (lose--response curve, rather than a maximum likelihood estimate. The actual cancer risk is believed to be somewhere below this upper confidence limit, and could be as low as zero (U.S. EPA 1994). The U.S. EPA value is more conservative than recent derivations of benzo[a]pyrene cancer potency factors, which incorporate adjustments for exposures during infancy (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment 2010).

In regard to specific issues raised about selected underlying assumptions used in the risk assessment process, the FDA respectfully disagrees with the arguments of Rotkin-Ellman et al. (2012). Various assumptions must be made in risk assessments in order to extrapolate data from animal or human studies using models to estimate population risks. Such models are designed to he overly protective to account for uncertainty and variability (e.g., upper 95% confidence bound on cancer risk values, and interand intraspecies uncertainty factors on reference doses for noncarcinogens). With in this context, some numerical assumptions are based on average or mean values (e.g., average adult body weight and averaging time), and other assumptions are based on upper percentile values such as annualized food consumption rates.

For purposes of risk assessment, average adult body weight may be viewed as an estimate of average lifetime body weight--and averaging time as average lifespan--of people comprising a population. Because these factors are all condensed into a single number, there is often a range of values that it may he reasonable to use. Risk calculations include these factors in the derivation of contaminant thresholds for lifetime cancer risk and risk of adverse effect during a lifetime of exposure for noncancer end points. The resulting threshold values reflect risk across the average lifespan of a population, including men, women (including pregnant women), and children.

Seafood consumption data are collected for different purposes using a variety of survey instruments. It is important to note that surveys most often reflect short-term intake and do not necessarily address seasonality or otherwise directly capture annualized seafood consumption. The BP risk assessment (FDA 2010a) used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 90th percentile consumption data for seafood eaters-only adjusted for consumption frequency (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2007). Meal portion and frequency (16.4 seafood meals/month) were converted to annualized daily equivalents.

The selection of 5 years for projected exposure duration following the BP oil spill was considered appropriate and conservative in consideration of the nature of the spilled oil (i.e., light crude), physical conditions (e.g., 29.5[degrees]C water temperature), offshore location of the spill (50 miles), and metabolic capacities of seafood species potentially impacted. Exposure duration values selected in previous oil spill assessments range from 2 years (e.g., New carissa, Oregon, 1999) to 10 years (Exxon Valdez, Alaska, 1989). Corresponding fishery closures range from weeks to > 6 years for select species that were subjected to prolonged exposures (e.g., farmed salmon, burrowing lobster). In one of the areas most heavily contaminated after the Exxon Valdez spill (Windy Bay), benzo(a)pyrene equivalents decreased to nondetectable levels by 2.2 years after the contamination event (Bolger et al. 1996). Fisheries closures due to the BP oil spill range from 2 weeks for areas experiencing little to no impact to > 15 months for heavily impacted areas. The reopening of Gulf fisheries based on PAH chemical surveillance results confirmed that selection of a 5-year exposure duration was indeed appropriate and conservative (FDA 2010b; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 2010).

The classification of naphthalene as a noncancer risk in the BP oil spill seafood safety risk assessment was based on current information and concurrence from the U.S. EPA (FDA 2010a). The U.S EPA (1998b) classified naphthalene in "Group C, a possible human carcinogen. This is based on inadequate data of carcinogenicity in humans exposed to naphthalene via the oral or inhalation routes, and the limited evidence of carcinogenicity in animals via the inhalation route." No oral slope factor or inhalation unit risk estimate were derived for naphthalene by the U.S. EPA because of the weakness of the evidence that naphthalene may he carcinogenic to humans (U.S. EPA 1998b). More recent evaluations have maintained the noncancer risk classification of naphthalene, as evidenced by the 64th meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which considered but did not include naphthalene among genotoxic and carcinogenic PARs evaluated (FAO/WHO 2006).

Although well intentioned, the LOC values suggested by Rotkin-Ellman et al. (2012) do not appear to take into account the natural background occurrence of PAHs in foods in many categories. Assessments from the body of scientific literature is perhaps best represented by the deliberations of JECFA (which included experts from the FDA), which found benzo(a)pyrene from dietary intake alone to range from 0.16 to 3.3 [micro]g/person/day (Benford et al. 2010; FAO/WHO 1991, 2006). The LOC values proposed by Rotkin-Ellman et al. (2012) would unnecessarily exclude many food groups from consumers, where nutritional benefits far outweighs negligible risk from PAHs.

Public health authorities are responsible for protecting consumers from contaminated commercial and recreational seafood sources, and to that end advisories may be issued to protect consumers. The federal and state interagency risk assessment for seafood safety following the BP oil spill of 2010 was designed and agreed on by all participants to provide conservative criteria that protect the public. The alternative interpretation provided by Rotkin-Ellman et al. (2012) carries a risk of doing more harm than good.

The author declares that he has no actual or potential competing financial interest.


Benford D, DiNovi M, Setzer RW. 2010. Application of the margin-of-exposure (MOE) approach to substances in food that are genotoxic and carcinogenic e.g.: benzo[a]pyrene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Food Chem Toxicol 48(suppl 1 ):S42-S48.

Bolger M, Henry S, Carrington C. 1996. Hazard and risk assessment of crude oil contaminants in subsistence seafood samples from Prince William Sound. In: Proceedings of the Exxon Valdez 0il Spill Symposium (Rice SD, Spies RB, Wolfe DA, Wright BA, eds). Am Fish Soc Symposium 18:837-843.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. NHANES 2005-2006. Available: [accessed 10 October 2011].

FAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization) 1991. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Toxicological Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants. WHO Food Additive Report Series No. 28. Geneva: World Health Organization, International Programme on Chemical Safety. Available: [accessed 7 October 2011].

FAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization) 2006. Evaluation of Certain Food Contaminants. WHO Technical Report Series 930. Geneva: World Health Organization, International Programme on Chemical Safety. Available: [accessed 7 October 20111.

FDA (Food arid Drug Administration). 2010a. Protocol for Interpretation and Use of Sensory Testing and Analytical Chemistry Results for Re-Opening Oil-Impacted Areas Closed to Seafood Harvesting due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Available: http://www.fdagov/Food/ucm2l76Ol.htm [accessed 10 October 2011].

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 2010b. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Update. Available: [accessed 10 October 2011].

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2010. Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill Information. Available: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gav/deepwater_horizon_oil_spill.htm [accessed 10 October 2011].

Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 2010. Benzo(a)pyrene. Public Health Goals for Chemicals in Drinking Water. Sacramento, CA: Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency. Available: [accessed 26 September 2011].

Rotkin-Ellman M, Wong KK, Solomon GM. 2012. Seafood contamination after the BP Gulf oil spill and risks to vulnerable populations: a critique of the FDA risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect 120:157-161.

U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1994. Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) (CASRN50-32-8). Available: (accessed 10 June 2010].

U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1998a. Draft Water Quality Criteria Methodology Revisions: Human Health, Notice. Fed Reg 63(157):43755-43828. Available: [accessed 10 October 2011].

U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1998b. Naphthalene (CAS No. 91-20-3). Available: [accessed 10 June 2010].

U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2000. National Guidance: Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data for Use in Fish Advisories, Volume 2. Risk Assessment and Fish Consumption Limits Limits--Third Edition. EPA 823-B-00-007. Washington, DC: U.S. EPA, Office of Science and Technology. Available: [accessed 10 October 2011].

Robert W. Dickey FDA Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory Dauphin Island, Alabama E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2012 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Correspondence; Food and Drug Administration; British Petroleum; Environmental Health Perspectives
Author:Dickey, Robert W.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2012
Previous Article:2011 reviewers of the year.
Next Article:FDA Risk Assessment of Seafood Contamination after the BP oil spill: Rotkin-Ellman and solomon respond.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters