Bioavailability of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from buried shoreline oil residues thirteen years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill: A multispecies assessment



Seven taxa of intertidal plants and animals were sampled at 17 shoreline sites in Prince William Sound ([PWS]; AK, USA), that were heavily oiled in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) to determine if polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from buried oil in intertidal sediments are sufficiently bioavailable to intertidal prey organisms that they might pose a health risk to populations of birds and wildlife that forage on the shore. Buried residues of EVOS oil are present in upper and middle intertidal sediments at 16 sites. Lower intertidal (0 m) sediments contain little oil. Much of the PAH in lower intertidal sediments are from combustion sources. Mean tissue total PAH (TPAH) concentrations in intertidal clams, mussels, and worms from oiled sites range from 24 to 36 ng/g (parts per billion) dry weight; sea lettuce, whelks, hermit crabs, and intertidal fish contain lower concentrations. Concentrations of TPAH are similar or slightly lower in biota from unoiled reference sites. The low EVOS PAH concentrations detected in intertidal biota at oiled shoreline sites indicate that the PAH from EVOS oil buried in intertidal sediments at these sites have a low bioavailability to intertidal plants and animals. Individual sea otters or shorebirds that consumed a diet of intertidal clams and mussels exclusively from the 17 oiled shores in 2002 were at low risk of significant health problems. The low concentrations of EVOS PAH found in some intertidal organisms at some oiled shoreline sites in PWS do not represent a health risk to populations of marine birds and mammals that forage in the intertidal zone.