The following is a press release from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals:
Officials with the Louisiana departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Health and Hospitals (DHH), and Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) are continuing to work together with federal agencies to protect public health and guarantee the safety of Gulf Coast-harvested seafood products.
In addition to standard ongoing monitoring of air quality, drinking water and seafood safety, state officials have taken additional steps by increasing testing schedules and instituting additional testing to ensure the oil spill does not adversely impact residents, wildlife or seafood harvested from Louisiana's coastline. The state is also working closely with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to maximize state resources and help reduce duplication of efforts.
"Our primary concerns the health and safety of residents near the oil spill, and the safety of anyone who enjoys Louisiana seafood," said DHH Secretary Alan Levine. "We believe this enhanced monitoring will give us the proper baseline of information we need to keep the public safe."
Wildlife and Fisheries' biologists are collecting samples as part of the standard fisheries independent sampling program and are taking the additional step of immediately sending them to DHH for further tissue analysis. DWF will continue to monitor Louisiana fisheries to ensure the products are safe for human consumption.
"We are aggressively working with our state partners to not only streamline our sampling efforts, but to also ensure the safety of each body of water where fishing is still open," said DWF Secretary Robert Barham. "Our partners at DHH and DEQ are working diligently with our biologists to get the most accurate data, and I commend all their efforts."
The state agencies are working closely with the FDA. Once samples are collected, they are transported to a testing facility where portions are tested, and the remainder is frozen for future testing by the FDA. DHH's Molluscan Shellfish Program has continued its stringent, daily sampling across the 8 million acres of Louisiana's Gulf Coast. Oysters already on the market or harvested from areas that have not been closed are safe to eat.
DEQ, DHH and DWF have worked together to determine a baseline for acceptable levels of what are known as hydrocarbons, which are found in crude oil. An elevated level of hydrocarbons in seafood tissue is a good indicator of the presence of oil. Seafood is being analyzed to determine normal levels from non-impacted areas of the coastline. This data will serve as the baseline for hydrocarbon levels in our environment before the oil potentially reaches inshore areas.
While DEQ has maintained regular air quality testing at its Chalmette and Kenner monitoring stations, DEQ and DHH have requested additional testing from the EPA. There is a full EPA monitoring plan on the DEQ Web site at www.deq.louisiana.gov. A mobile air monitoring van also continues to test in populated areas along the coast for air quality. Air monitoring has not shown unsafe levels of hydrocarbons.
In addition to air monitoring and seafood monitoring, DHH's Safe Drinking Water Program continues to operate with a heightened sense of vigilance, and has instituted additional comprehensive water testing in areas that could be vulnerable to contaminants from the oil spill-although the possibility of impact is highly unlikely. Staff is working closely with local officials and water systems to monitor drinking water to ensure the proper emergency systems are in place.
Officials are also monitoring water along the coastline through the DHH Beach Monitoring Program. Officials are sampling water along the coast daily and have issued advisories for residents where necessary.