One year after the BP oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans residents are still wary of eating seafood. Although government regulators have declared that seafood from the Gulf is safe, many fear that hydrocarbon oil contaminants, which have been linked to cancer and other diseases, are still present.
The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion of April 2010 unleashed the largest marine oil spill in history. The deep sea wellhead gushed 4.9 million barrels of crude oil (an estimated 53,000 barrels per day) before it was finally capped in July 2010. The oil spill caused unparalleled damage to local industry and the environment. In November 2010, over 4,000 square miles of the Gulf were closed to shrimping because shrimpers found tar balls in their nets. Those with direct exposure to the spill -- first responders and residents along the Gulf Coast -- have reported symptoms ranging from nausea to chest pains. Already there has been an increase in the number of reported miscarriages and babies born with malformed hearts. However, the health effects of consuming Gulf seafood remain unknown.
In addition to oil particles, the Gulf also retains residue of the dispersant BP used to clean up the spill. The dispersant Corexit was criticized for being highly toxic and for mixing with oil to create a pollutant even more deadly than the oil alone. On April 20, 2011, a little over 1,000 square miles were finally reopened for commercial and recreational fishing. The FDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that 99% of the samples contained no dispersant residues or oil-related compounds. New Orleans restaurant owners and chefs have been urging customers to return on the basis of these findings. But the problem is not with local residents alone: a USA TODAY poll found that 59% of those surveyed would not consume Gulf seafood.
More than 130 lawsuits have been filed as a result of the oil spill, many of them class action complaints that accuse BP of ignoring basic safety procedures. The federal government joined them last month, seeking unlimited penalties under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act. BP created a $20 billion "spill response fund" to address residents' damages claims, but it does not cap BP's liability. It is easy to imagine that more claims will arise as more people are affected by the oil spill, including those from thousands of miles away who consume Gulf seafood. If you believe that contaminated Gulf seafood may be responsible for your cancer or your child's birth defect, you have the option of filing a negligence lawsuit against BP, as well as the seller. You could claim that these companies breached their duty to you -- BP by ignoring safety procedures, the seller by failing to remove contaminated seafood. The difficulty might be in proving that BP had a duty to you if you lived miles from the Gulf Coast. You would also need to prove causation, that the negligence was a direct or proximate cause of your injury. This would be easier if there were others in your situation who had experienced similar injuries. But such evidence may not be available for months, if not years.