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Dispersant and salinity effects on weathering and acute toxicity of South Louisiana crude oil


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Chemical dispersants are an important technology in the remediation of oil spills in the aquatic environment, facilitating degradation of crude oil and salinity is an important factor in dispersant effectiveness. The aim of the present study was to explore the role of salinity on the degradation chemistry of crude oil polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and acute toxicity of the water-accommodated fraction (WAF) of the dispersant COREXIT 9500A and chemically dispersed crude oil on a common estuarine fish. Laboratory microcosms were designed at salinities of 4 parts per thousand (ppt), 12 ppt, or 18 ppt and spiked with crude oil, COREXIT 9500A, or a combined exposure to crude oil and COREXIT and allowed to biodegrade for 1 wk, 4 wk, and 16 wk. The WAF was harvested for analytical PAH analysis and acute toxicity testing in juvenile Fundulus grandis. Compared with undispersed oil, COREXIT exponentially increased the PAH concentrations in the WAF for up to 16 wk; hopane-normalized concentrations indicated that biodegradation was slowed for the first 4 wk. Dispersed crude oil and COREXIT were acutely toxic following 1 wk of biodegradation with no correlation between PAH concentrations and crude oil WAF mortality. Both dispersant and dispersant oil mixtures remained toxic for at least 4 wk at the lowest salinity tested, suggesting increased sensitivity or reduced biodegradation of toxic components in low-saline environments. At the lowest salinity, oil dispersed with COREXIT was more toxic than either the COREXIT alone or oil alone, even after 16 wk of biodegradation. Environ Toxicol Chem 2013;32:2611–2620. © 2013 SETAC