A diagnostic laboratory at UC Davis is gearing up to test seafood from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill area for petroleum-based chemicals, including some that have the potential to cause cancer in people.
The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis is one of eight state and federal laboratories nationwide — and the only one in California — chosen by the federal government to monitor seafood from the Gulf of Mexico for toxins related to the oil spill. Seafood from the oil spill area is expected to begin arriving at the UC Davis lab for testing by early August.
“We will be looking at a variety of different seafood, including finfish, crabs, oysters and shrimp, from the impacted areas of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Robert Poppenga, a UC Davis veterinary toxicologist who is coordinating the UC Davis lab’s seafood analysis team.
The federal surveillance program will rely on two levels of testing. First, a panel of experts at an initial lab will administer sensory tests, checking for the telltale odors of petroleum contamination. If contaminants are suspected following these tests, the samples will then be sent on for more sensitive chemical diagnostic tests at UC Davis and other participating laboratories.
The other participating labs are located in Colorado, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida.
In preparation for the seafood-testing program, UC Davis has received equipment valued at roughly $140,000 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to complement its existing diagnostic equipment. The FDA is coordinating the testing program in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Petroleum crude oil is a very complex mixture of chemicals, and some of the chemicals within that mixture are potential cancer-causing agents,” Poppenga said. “So we’re going to focus on those that are of primary concern to human health.”
Of interest to the UC Davis surveillance team is a group of chemicals known as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as benzene, naphthalene, fluorine, anthracene, pyrene, benzo(a)pyrene and others.
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