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REPORT ON THE SAFETY OF CONSUMING FISH AND SHELLFISH FROM AREAS IMPACTED BY THE M/V COSCO BUSAN OIL SPILL IN SAN FRANCISCO BAY, CALIFORNIA
On November 7, 2007, the container vessel M/V Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, releasing approximately 58,000 gallons of IFO 380 bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay. On November 9, Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a State of Emergency in the City and County of San Francisco and the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma. On November 13, Governor Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-14-07 directing the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), in consultation with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), to “expeditiously review the available scientific information to determine whether a significant human health risk is posed by the human consumption of marine life caught in the area impacted by the oil spill.” The Executive Order suspended all fishing for human consumption in the spill area until December 1, 2007. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFG), in consultation with OEHHA and CDPH, can amend the ban as appropriate. Following the Executive Order, OEHHA issued an interim oil spill advisory for fish consumption for San Francisco Bay and coastal waters between Pt. Reyes lighthouse and San Pedro Point. This advisory recommended against consumption of fish or shellfish from the area affected by the oil spill.
In order for OEHHA to conclude that the marine life impacted by the oil spill were safe to eat, OEHHA had to determine three things: 1) the contaminants of concern in marine life following the oil spill, 2) the levels of these contaminants in fish tissue that pose no significant human health risk when consumed, and 3) the levels of these contaminants present in fish and shellfish. This report describes the results of that determination.
A sampling and analysis team was formed with staff from OEHHA, CDFG, including staff from CDFG’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), CDPH, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). Staff from these departments met almost daily from November 13 through November 29 to discuss sampling options and priorities, analysis capabilities and timelines. This group developed a sampling plan to target the following species in the area affected by the Cosco Busan oil spill: Dungeness crab, Pacific herring, shiner surfperch, red rock crabs, and mussels. Several locations inside San Francisco Bay and on the coast were selected for collections. For comparison, samples from locations not affected by the spill were also obtained. The first round of sampling began on November 15 and was completed on November 20. The conclusions of the report are based on this sampling. Several Dungeness crab samples were sent for sensory evaluations.
Metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can become concentrated in bunker fuel and may pose major human health concerns following an oil spill. Analysis of the fuel released into San Francisco Bay indicated very low levels of metal contaminants, therefore our evaluation focused on PAHs. OEHHA calculated 44 ppb as a level of benzo(a)pyrene equivalent PAHs in fish or shellfish tissue that, when consumed, will not pose a significant human health risk. Benzo(a)pyrene equivalent PAHs are considered the most valid measure of the cancer producing potency of the fuel. This finding assumes consumption of one 8-ounce meal (or two 4-ounce meals) per week for 30 years, which is a standard health-based approach. OEHHA considers a risk level of 1x10-4 (1 in 10,000) appropriate for use in fish consumption advisories, when considering the counterbalancing benefits of fish consumption. This risk level indicates that, for a population of 10,000 people consuming fish or shellfish containing 44 ppb benzo(a)pyrene equivalents at 8-ounces per week for 30 years, only one additional case of cancer would be expected. This risk level is within the acceptable range of risks (1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000,000) used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) in regulatory criteria for drinking water (Fed. Reg., 1998) and is provided as an example of a maximum acceptable risk level in U.S. EPA’s Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data for Use in Fish Advisories (U.S. EPA, 2000).
Dungeness crab, Pacific herring, and shiner surfperch were not found to contain any detectable benzo(a)pyrene equivalent PAHs (BaPE). Red rock crabs at Berkeley Marina were found to contain 0.4 ppb while those at Angel Island had undetectable levels. OEHHA and CDPH concluded that no significant human health risk is posed by consumption of Dungeness crab, Pacific herring, and shiner surfperch from the area impacted by the oil spill due to PAH contamination. In addition, a preliminary sensory evaluation of Dungeness crabs found no evidence that the taste and odor of the crabs had been significantly affected by the oil spill.
Mussels at Berkeley Marina and Rodeo Beach were found to contain levels of 53 and 53 ppb BaPE, respectively, and thus they were both above the limit of health concern. For this reason, the OEHHA advisory recommending against consumption of fish or shellfish from the area affected by the oil spill will be revised to include only mussels at these two locations. This advisory will remain in place until testing indicates that consumption of mussels at these locations no longer poses a human health concern. Mussels at Angel Island and Baker Beach had levels of 12 and 2 ppb BaPE, respectively. Thus, these exposures were below our level of concern. CDPH concurs with these findings. The mussel report was updated on March 13, 2008, follow this link to view the updated report.
Although the tests found no increased risk from eating crabs or fish from the spill area because of oil contamination, it is possible that some fish or crabs may have come into contact with pockets of oil. Sport fishers should avoid eating any fish or shellfish that have an oily smell or taste. Commercial fishers and crabbers should take appropriate steps to ensure that their catches do not contact any remaining floating oil and are free of signs of contamination. Finally, it is important to note that there are other sport fish consumption advisories in the San Francisco Bay as a result of mercury and other contaminants (see http://www.oehha.ca.gov/fish/general/sfbaydelta.html).