PRAIRIE VIEW TX – Americans eat more than 20 pounds of seafood per person per year, federal statistics show and, of all seafood available, shrimp is the public favorite. It accounts for nearly 30 percent of our seafood diets. We love shrimp cooked and peeled, breaded and fried, added to salads, and in all kinds of dinners.
Of course, we also want to enjoy it safely. That’s why work is now under way to ensure certain shrimp won’t make us ill.
A research team at Prairie View A&M University in Texas is developing technology to detect harmful chemicals in shrimp supplies, it reported this month. Its members are using advanced equipment to find polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in shrimp harvests. The federal Department of Homeland Security is funding their effort.
The hydrocarbons represent a form of organic pollution, occasionally found in imported shrimp supplies. They result from burning coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco, the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states. About 100 such chemicals are known. Of them, 16 have been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “harmful to human health.” They pose a threat if they enter seafood undetected in shrimp fishing waters.
“Workers have become sick with blood and liver problems from large amounts of exposure,” the CDC explains. “Scientists consider several (hydrocarbons) and some specific mixtures to be cancer-causing chemicals,” it also said. Human health effects from indirect exposure to low levels of the hydrocarbons remains unknown.
The Prairie View research is led by Dr. Harshica Fernando, an assistant professor of chemistry. Her team is focusing first on discovering the chemicals with gas chromatography, an analytical technique to separate, detect and quantify chemical components. For the long term, however, it also seeks to create a method that relies on fluorescence energy to detect them without expensive instruments.
“Through this work, we will all benefit by identifying ways to protect our imported seafood supplies from significant levels” of the hydrocarbons, while also “ training a new generation of skilled researchers and scientists,” Fernando said.
“With shrimp being such a popular and healthy addition to American diets, considering its high protein and omega-3 fatty acids, protecting the integrity of our shrimp imports is critical to ensuring a safe food supply,” she added.