Risk of weathered residual Exxon Valdez oil to pink salmon embryos in Prince William Sound



It has been hypothesized that pink salmon eggs incubating in intertidal streams transecting Prince William Sound (PWS) beaches oiled by the Exxon Valdez oil spill were exposed to lethal doses of dissolved hydrocarbons. Since polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) levels in the incubation gravel were too low to cause mortality, the allegation is that dissolved high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons (HPAH) leaching from oil deposits on the beach adjacent to the streams were the source of toxicity. To evaluate this hypothesis, we placed pink salmon eggs in PWS beach sediments containing residual oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and in control areas without oil. We quantified the hydrocarbon concentrations in the eggs after three weeks of incubation. Tissue PAH concentrations of eggs in oiled sediments were generally <100 ppb and similar to background levels on nonoiled beaches. Even eggs in direct contact with oil in the sediment resulted in tissue PAH loads well below the lethal threshold concentrations established in laboratory bioassays, and very low concentrations of HPAH compounds were present. These results indicate that petroleum hydrocarbons dissolved from oil deposits on intertidal beaches are not at concentrations that pose toxic risk to incubating pink salmon eggs. The evidence does not support the hypothesis that interstitial pore water in previously oiled beaches is highly toxic.