+ Gulf states, including Florida, are nearing an agreement with the federal government on “how clean is clean.”
+ Scientists are pushing back against the government’s report that suggested the oil has mostly dissipated (more after the jump).
+ Fishermen and environmentalists are criticizing the testing of Gulf seafood, which the government insists is safe (more after the jump).
+ The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has found that beaches are clear enough to end the relocation of sea turtle eggs.
+ In an editorial, the St. Petersburg Times calls on the governments to adopt oil spill response reforms “[Oil spill response commander Thad] Allen’s sensible ideas — to improve technology, keep testing and build on the command structure already in place — should be pursued now while the spill is on the nation’s radar.”
+ Oil notices have been lifted on some — but not all — Escambia County beaches.
+ Claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg is receiving claims from all over the country, according to BusinessWeek.
+ Feinberg takes over on Monday, and BP will stop accepting new claims tomorrow.
+ Groups are raising questions about how independent the compensation fund is from BP.
Activists call for tougher seafood testing
Yesterday, in an online chat hosted by the White House, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, emphasized the rigor of the government’s testing of seafood for oil-related chemicals.
She emphasized the “series of filters” seafood must go through before it reaches the public. Before a fishery can be opened, water is tested until it is free of oil. Then the fish is tested repeatedly — in sniff tests and chemical tests, tests on the docks and at the market.
In a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources Defense Council warns that gulf shellfish may accumulate oil though vertebrate fish do not and that toxic effects in “vulnerable populations” such as children, pregnant women, and people whose diets are heavy on seafood need to be more closely studied.
In a press release issued today, the NRDC joins other advocacy organizations in calling for tougher testing of gulf seafood, and for the agencies studying the spill to release more data.
The federal government also maintains that dispersants do not pose a health hazard to seafood eaters and that it’s difficult to test for them because they degrade so quickly.
The FDA contends the stronger cleansing ingredients under question degrade too quickly in water to accumulate in fish flesh. In experiments under way in Texas and Alabama, federal scientists are dumping dispersant into tanks full of shrimp, oysters and crabs to try to detect even minute levels.
Still, some critics say a test is needed.
“Make this as comprehensive as possible,” says Susan Shaw of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Maine. “It’s trying to make sure the needle in the haystack is not there.”
Some scientists question the government’s oil spill estimates
On Aug. 4, the government released a report — based mostly on projections and modeling — that suggested all but 26 percent of the oil in the gulf had been cleaned up or dispersed.
Now, some researchers are saying that some three quarters of the oil “has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem.”
“One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless,” said Charles Hopkinson, director of Georgia Sea Grant and professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are.
Meanwhile, University of South Florida researchers “discovered what appears to be oil in the sediment of a vital underwater canyon and evidence that the oil has become toxic to critical marine organisms,” though their findings are preliminary and still have to be verified in a lab.
PolitiFact rates the claim that three-quarters of the oil is “gone” half-true.
We think it was a reach for Browner to definitively state that three-quarters of the oil is “gone.” For one, a quarter of the oil was described as dispersed. Much of that may be on its way toward being degraded by natural processes, but we think it’s unfair to call that “gone.” In addition, the report carries a bit of uncertainty. Much of the estimate was based not on on hard data, but was calculated from formulas based on prior gulf spills that occurred in shallower water. As some scientists told us, Browner’s estimate may be accurate, but they can’t say for sure.