Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Gulf Seafood Radium Levels

Gulf Seafood Radium LevelsGulf Seafood Radium Levels

Chernobyl in the Gulf of Mexico

by Stuart H. Smith

It’s been more than a year since BP’s runaway Macondo Well began filling the northern waters of the Gulf of Mexico with more than 200 million gallons of sweet crude, fouling shorelines from Louisiana’s marshes to the Florida Panhandle. As our nation’s worst man-made environmental disaster unfolded, it quickly became the lead story of the summer – with photos of oiled birds and video of gushing oil entrancing the American public, and the world.

Yet despite the barrage of around-the-clock coverage and the army of scientists studying the impacts, one of the stories that hasn’t made headlines is that in addition to the crude and toxic dispersants, the spill also released dangerous amounts of radioactive material into the Gulf.

Once the well was capped in mid-July of last year, mainstream media resources and the public were quick to turn away from the disaster and its far-reaching impacts on the environment, marine life, wildlife and, of course, people. Much like the oil itself – strategically sunk to the Gulf floor by BP’s use of the toxic dispersant Corexit – national news coverage of the spill’s effects has largely vanished, although we did see the expected round of first-year anniversary stories.

But still no mention of radioactive material.

The true extent of the spill’s damage is just now beginning to come into view for clean-up workers, commercial fishermen, oil-well workers, charter boat captains, restaurant owners, Gulf Coast denizens and independent scientists studying the effects of the spill – and the fallout becomes more troubling by the day. Independent researchers, like Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia, report that oil coats the Gulf floor where it has decimated deep-water marine life. Residents up and down the Gulf Coast report that tar balls and mats continue to litter their beaches, and re-oilings are common. The multi-billion-dollar Gulf seafood industry is reeling from both small catches and plummeting demand brought on by very real concerns about contamination. Dead dolphins and sea turtles continue to wash ashore at record-breaking rates. Oyster beds have been devastated and are in desperate need of restoration. And perhaps most disturbing of all, increasingly large numbers of clean-up workers and coastal residents are getting sick.

Reports of unexplained health problems are soaring – and the primary suspects are the toxic compounds contained in BP’s oil and the chemical dispersants used to break down the crude. From flu-like symptoms to blindness to intense chest pain to severe sinus inflammation, people across the Gulf region are reporting debilitating illnesses in the wake of the spill.

To determine how the spill may be causing this spike in sicknesses, we need to look at how the toxins are released into the environment.

The production of oil delivers several different waste streams into the environment in an uncontrolled release like the BP disaster. Besides the oil itself, highly toxic compounds are also present in the gas streams jettisoned from the well, including methane and hydrogen sulfide. A waste byproduct known as “produced water” is also simultaneously discharged with the oil and gases from the well. Every oil and gas formation, or reservoir, contains these waste streams.

The toxins associated with these streams can be broken down into three primary categories: (1) organic elements like benzene; (2) inorganic heavy metals including lead, chromium and cadmium; and (3) most important, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

Radioactive elements such as radium, thorium and uranium are known byproducts of the oil production process. These toxic elements are extracted from the ground along with the oil and gas, and are separated from the fossil fuels as part of the production process. Once the NORM is extracted, it is flushed directly back into the ocean in the waste-stream byproduct known as produced water. Their discharge into the Gulf of Mexico has been a daily reality since the 1950s – but the amount that was released into the water from the runaway Macondo Well is unprecedented.

As if NORM exposure from offshore drilling processes wasn’t enough to worry about, the New York Times published a high-profile article in late February (see link below) on the dangers of radioactive exposure onshore from the drilling process known as hydrofracking.

Fracking, as it is commonly called, involves the injection of water and a mixture of highly toxic chemicals into wells to break up rock formations that hold large amounts of natural gas. However, just like the offshore drilling process, the produced-water waste stream created by fracking contains dangerous levels of NORM that can contaminate inland waterways and has even been dumped in water sewage plants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. These types of treatment facilities don’t test for radioactivity so there is no way of telling just how much NORM is being mixed directly into drinking water.

The Times also uncovered a bombshell “secret industry study” from the American Petroleum Institute (API). The study, written in 1990, states that consuming seafood from the Gulf of Mexico poses “potentially significant risks” of cancer to humans due to the radium levels in produced water discharges. The EPA has yet to publicly release a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the volume of produced water being discharged in the Gulf of Mexico or its effect on human and marine life.

As someone who has spent the last 20-odd years litigating against the oil and gas industry for damages caused by radioactive oilfield waste, I had serious concerns that the BP spill released a significant amount of NORM into the Gulf. I knew the damage from the radioactive material could be acute and long-lasting to the Gulf ecosystem – and could linger for hundreds of years. Radium-226, a primary component of NORM, has a half-life of 1,600 years (the time it takes for the element to decay to half of its original mass).

In pursuing my hunch that large amounts of NORM were discharged during the nearly three months the oil spewed from the Deepwater Horizon site, I obtained a sample of the oil from the Macondo Well and had it sent to an independent laboratory in the United Kingdom. The results are now in and the presence of a significant quantity of radioactive material has been confirmed by Dr. Chris Busby, a chemical physicist of the U.K.-based environmental watchdog organization Green Audit.

Dr. Busby’s report (see link below) on the laboratory findings suggests that as much as 50 kilograms of uranium, or about 110 pounds, were released into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP spill. According to Dr. Busby, the tests showed the uranium content in the oil to be 0.073 mg/kg, or more than 500 times the normal concentration of uranium in seawater. The Gulf of Mexico is a large body of water but even a small amount of radioactive material can have a devastating impact on life in a marine ecosystem – as well as on humans who are unfortunate enough to come into direct contact with it.

Alarmed by his findings, Dr. Busby warns:

This level of uranium exposure is thousands of times more dangerous than the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) risk model suggests. We should be very concerned that this material is showing up in an ecosystem with shrimp, crabs, fish, and other animals that humans consume on a daily basis.

The uranium content in the oil is not the only concern, radon gases would also have been present in the methane expelled from the well and significant concentrations of radium-226 and radium-228 would have been present in the produced water discharged from the well. No estimates of these radioactive discharges have been publicly released by BP or the federal government.

To significantly compound the potential human health risks associated with the disaster, the radioactive oil burned off at the water surface resulted in radioactive isotopes becoming airborne. Once airborne, the radioactive particles can be easily inhaled into the human respiratory system. We are unaware of any studies or dose reconstructions that have been done, or will be done, by BP or the federal government to assess the risk from this human exposure pathway.

Dr. Busby explains the health risk:

Uranium is increasingly seen to be a very serious hazard to humans due to its high affinity for genetic material and its ability to trap and amplify natural background gamma radiation at the one place in the body it can do most harm. For this reason, humans have developed responses to uranium ingestion over evolutionary time scales in the form of low absorption from the gut. But humans have never had to deal with uranium inhalation. Once inhaled, uranium can directly enter the brain or pass through the lungs into the lymphatic nodes and blood system, causing the wide range of neurological conditions that were identified as Gulf War syndrome at one extreme and cancer at the other.

Busby said the workers who were closest to the controlled burns of the oil would have been particularly susceptible to radiation exposure.

The physical symptoms of radioactive exposure are very similar to the symptoms produced by exposure to the other toxic compounds in the oil, flu-like symptoms which continue over long periods of time. Specific symptoms from radiation exposure include: neurological problems such as memory loss, headaches and balance problems, even seizures; stomach and digestive problems, such as diarrhea; sweating; dizziness; nosebleeds and bleeding from the ears, rectum and urinary tract; trouble sleeping; and rashes or skin irritations are also be cause for concern.

If any of these symptoms are observed, it is imperative that the person affected seek medical attention as soon as possible. If first contact with a medical professional results in a dismissal of the person’s symptoms, he or she should not be discouraged. Many people across the Gulf region are experiencing similar health problems, and most doctors are not familiar with the effects of chemical or radiation exposure. Affected persons should continue to seek medical help.

Uncontrolled NORM discharges occur on a daily basis during the oil production process in the Gulf of Mexico. While much of the material produced in deeper waters is dispersed into the water column and partitions into smaller concentrations, production in shallower waters produces radioactive material that settles on the ocean floor where it accumulates and comes into direct contact with bottom-feeding marine life. The radioactive elements are consumed by these benthic organisms then work their way back up the food chain to larger animals – and can eventually contaminate humans who consume seafood from the Gulf.

Due to lack of research, little is know about the effects of NORM exposure in the Gulf of Mexico and how it affects ocean life and humans. However, numerous land-based studies have shown that human exposure to even small traces of radioactivity can prove deadly. Radium has a half-life of about 1,600 years while uranium lingers for billions of years. Yes, that’s billions with a “b.” Once the material is introduced into the Gulf ecosystem whatever effect it has, for the most part, it will be permanent.

A white paper authored by radioactive waste experts Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D and Stanley J. Waligora, Jr. for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) suggests that as much as 6,000 Ci (curie) of radium are released into the Gulf waters by the oil production process every year. Very little regulation and monitoring has been put in place by the EPA or state agencies to assess the amount of radioactive material being discharged into the Gulf.

Of particular concern is the cumulative effect of the radioactive fallout occurring from oil and gas platforms near fragile marine estuaries such as oyster beds. In fact, as the white paper notes, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) doesn’t even require rig owners to test for radioactive material in their produced-water discharge. We really don’t know how bad the problem is, but the cursory data is cause for serious concern. Despite repeated requests, the LDEQ has refused to require the oil and gas industry to pay for an independent environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the risk inherent in these discharges.

Aside from the human impact, the BP spill is a clarion call to recognize the damage inflicted on the Gulf’s fragile ecosystem for the past half century brought on by the race to, “Drill, baby, Drill!” The coastal ecosystem of Louisiana is a litmus test for states who are considering drilling off their own shores. With possible plans to expand offshore oil production from California to Florida, this isn’t just a Gulf Coast problem, it’s a national and even international problem we all have to face. The mad scramble for offshore, black gold continues unabated around the world despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Major offshore installations are either in place or planned for South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Arctic Ocean region. The very health of our planet’s oceans is at stake.

Here’s the NYT article on the dangers of fracking:

See state and federal agency documents on fracking and the associated toxic waste here:

Dr. Busby’s report on the discharge of radioactive material into the Gulf is here:

The white paper on produced waters is here:

source: Chernobyl in the Gulf of Mexico

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11 Responses to Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Gulf Seafood Radium Levels

  1. Jim E F says:

    I loved this: “Specific symptoms from radiation exposure include: neurological problems such as memory loss, headaches and balance problems, even seizures; stomach and digestive problems, such as diarrhea; sweating; dizziness; nosebleeds and bleeding from the ears, rectum and urinary tract; trouble sleeping; and rashes or skin irritations are also be cause for concern.” A bunch of symptoms that cover a HUGE range of radiation exposure, such as in ranges where doses are deadly in weeks. Yeah, at 5,000 rads you can actually feel the tingle in your limbs, you even see a blue glow. Sadly while this article does some wide estimates we have no hard facts of actual measured exposure to individuals or localities. What I come away with is another WONDER ARTICLE, one that gives a danger’esk sensation, like a dark shadow on a wall. Something the alternative media has become so famous for – Yellow Journalism – nothing you can sink your teeth into – just suggestions and things that SEEM to go bump in the night. Hurry, Hurry, Hurry! Step right up and see the 3 armed man – Oh, and check out our internet adds!

  2. WRAY EDWARDS says:

    The availability of clean energy (mostly solar…and perhaps scalar-zero point) worries the petroleum barons and speculators who cherish their corporate monopolies which make us all energy slaves.

    Again i ask “How many solar cells can one purchase for a billion dollars (the average price of a nuclear generating facility?). The human race seems to have a death wish. Citizen apathy and ignorance is rank proof of the gullibility of the sheeple. The financial and political influence of the multinational oil creeps, has turned the planet into a toxic prison. How about we all boycott just one of them…say Exxon Mobil… and by that force them to lower prices as a first step.

    Then force oil, coal and natural gas companies to devote at least twenty percent of their profits into solar farms.

  3. Pingback: BPs Gulf Of Mexico Oil Disaster: Seafood Has Dangerous Radiation « The Tonka Report

  4. Howard T. Lewis III says:

    We have been intentionally nuked twice. In the gulf oil well blow out and Fukushima. Both carried out by the same American traitorous cabal who knows pultroons make obedient congressmen. Since powers that wish to wrest control of the U.S. from the cretin voters now control the net, I must assume my messages will fall on deaf ears.

  5. All I can say is that so many are reporting to me. Emailing me…”are the beaches safe can I take my child to the beach??? Should I send my Son to College in Florida???
    They say, ” am so sick, I have blood coming out of my ears, I am bleeding. I have lesions, crawling constant itching, I am broke”
    The horror stories of people who worked within the belly of the beast, the atrocities that were witnessed, by human beings that somehow our government treat as if they were expendable and worthless.
    “How do I feed my family, we are broke have no money and food.?
    People say we need to start a charity and collect monies to help these people. Who is going to help them all of us are tapped out financially.
    The color of some of the people are grey, they are numb, scared, tired and yes there are some that have lost so much they want to die. Their way of life has been stolen by an insatiable beast and they feel as though their voices are not being heard.
    Some are so weak they can’t speak for themselves and if they could they do not know what to say. In my life could I ever have imagined such horrors on our soil. NO.
    I am a 7th Generation American, My father took 2 bullets for his country and died from radioactive poisoning (Lung Cancer) 23 years he gave to his counrty as a Marine. I ask now why at 52 he died, I am 55, he gave his life for me and you and our freedom. I pray to God that his life was not in vain.
    When I get emails and phone calls I ask myself, “Where is our government and where is the compassion in our Health care.? I am just some little dumb ass nurse in Florida and I am thinking of Suing BP myself for the pain and suffering that I have gone through after listening to people tell me their stories.

  6. Howard, I am listening. I am reading what you write it may be through tears rolling down my face but I am listening, watching and I care.

  7. WRAY EDWARDS says:

    As for the general karma of the situation…what goes around. comes around. Our military has dumped four thousand tons of depleted, poisonous uranium ordinance in the middle east. Birth defects in Faluja are running at 80%. Women there are told not to have babies. A tomahawk missile has 360 ponnds of DU and we are now contaminating Libya and stealing the people’s sovereign equities.

    “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Every last bit of radiation falling on this nation from the Gulf and Fukushima is richly deserved, and there is plenty more to come. We are now in the process of being evicted from another “garden of eden” having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil nuclear science.

    We have tampered with the secrets of creation…and like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, we used the wizzard’s wand and now do not know how to stop the nuclear industries’ deamon mayhem.

  8. Pingback: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Gulf Seafood Radium Levels «

  9. NWFloridaNative says:

    It’s not right to blame all Americans for what an evil Cabal of murderous psycho thugs are doing. Many of us have marched, written, called, screamed, and cussed at our “Congresscritters” to stop the use of DU only to be told “DU is perfectly safe. Our servicepeople handle it barehanded when they load the ordnance.” Can you believe that? Our service people are also having monster children and they are coming home and contaminating their partners, which results in sterility on the part of the contaminee. I live on the Northwest Florida Gulf coast. I have lived here all my life. I am a working class American from a long line of the same. Down here we are being killed by greedy “corporatist” (read fascist) governistas allowing us to be covered in toxic waste every day. So, Wray, NO, neither I nor my young child “deserve” this destruction. NOBODY deserves this destruction. Sorry. You are WRONG!

  10. Radiation dangers in food and water; via A Green Road Blog

    Radioactive Bananas? Peeling The Mystery; via A Green Road Blogm

    Radiation Safety Standards for Food: Comparing Chernobyl vs Fukushima; via A Green Road Blog

    Chernobyl Heart Movie; How Children Are Affected; via A Green Road Blog

    How Cesium And Strontium 90 Kills Children (German w English CC) via A Green Road Blog

    How Dangerous Is 400-600 Pounds Of Plutonium Nano Particle Dust Liberated By Fukushima? Via A Green Road Blog

    Dr. Chris Busby; Consequences of Burning Radioactive Waste In Japan; via A Green Road Blog

    Nuclear Plants And Radioactive Water Contamination; via A Green Road Blog

    Depleted Uranium Effects In The Human Body; via A Green Road Blog

    Radium Girls & Radium Dials; Ottowa Illinois, Death City

    Fukushima; Pacific Ocean Catastrophe Confirmed; via A Green Road Blog

    Fukushima Leaking Radioactive Water Plume Into Ocean; via A Green Road Blog

    Hot Particles (Fuel Fleas) From Fukushima Continue To Circulate Globally; via A Green Road Blog

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