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Editorial: Gulf fish OK doesn't pass the sniff test

Editorial: Gulf fish OK doesn't pass the sniff test

More long-term, scientific approach needed

Government officials have declared that most of the fish swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, where the largest oil spill in history occurred three months ago, is now safe to eat. They offer no scientific data from tests being run on the fish, but there appears to be little available, anyway, because the testing methodology isn’t very scientific.

Rather than determining how much oil, broken-down oil or chemical dispersants are in the fish, government inspectors have been relying on a sniff test. Is it any wonder that some of the fishermen themselves are dubious about the government’s claims?

True, the leak from Deepwater Horizon, which poured 50,000 barrels of oil a day into the gulf, has finally been capped; and the huge oil slick it created has been breaking down more rapidly than expected. But the government has been using routine testing methodologies for a spill of unprecedented proportions — one that involved not only record amounts of oil, but record amounts of chemical dispersants. As they decompose, the substances may affect each other, the fish, the food chain and humans in unprecedented ways — ways that are not immediately apparent.

It’s important that government work continue so a more scientific test can be developed to pinpoint the actual levels of contamination; that the data and testing methodologies be released as they become available; and that long-term testing on the impact of these substances on the environment be implemented. Toward this end, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been pressing BP to make good on its pledge to pay for such a program. The federal government should join him.

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