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Keywords:

  • Oil;
  • Weathering;
  • Vibrio fischeri;
  • Pore water;
  • Bioavailability

Abstract

Many sediments are contaminated with mixtures of oil residues and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), but little is known about the toxicity of such mixtures to sediment-dwelling organisms and the change in toxicity on weathering. In the present study, we investigated the effects of a seminatural, two-year weathering period on PAH/oil chemistry and toxicity in a marine sediment that had been spiked with three different oils (a gas oil, a lubricating oil, and a crude oil; all tested at five concentrations). Toxicity of bioavailable, pore water-accommodated oil/PAH fractions was quantified using a bacterial (Vibrio fischeri) assay and the in vitro chemical-activated luciferase expression assay (DR-CALUX; using conditions to detect PAHs). Results of chemical analyses pointed to (microbial) degradation of all three oils: Sediment oxygen demand during weathering increased with increasing oil concentration, total oil concentrations decreased to between 17 and 29% of initial levels, and resolved n-alkanes were depleted in weathered oil fractions. Furthermore, a shift in the relative importance of different boiling-point fraction ranges of the oils was observed on weathering. Generally, the lowest fraction range (C10-C16) disappeared, whereas the relative proportion of the highest (C28-C40) fraction range increased considerably. Remarkably, for the gas oil, this fraction shift was dependent on the oil concentration in sediment. Similarly, degradation of PAHs was strongly affected by the sedimentary oil content, indicating that the presence of oil stimulated PAH degradation. This phenomenon applied to both low- and high-molecular-weight PAHs, although the first group (3- and 4-ring PAHs) was degraded most. Results from the V. fischeri and DR-CALUX assay showed that in most cases, pore-water toxicity decreased on weathering. Combining the assay responses with chemical data indicated that the observed toxicity probably was not caused by the analyzed PAHs but, rather, by specific oil constituents instead.