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Predicting the toxicity of neat and weathered crude oil: Toxic potential and the toxicity of saturated mixtures

Authors

  • Dominic M. Di Toro,

    Corresponding author
    1. Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716, USA
    2. HydroQual, 1200 MacArthur Boulevard, Mahwah, New Jersey 07340, USA
    • Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716, USA
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  • Joy A. McGrath,

    1. HydroQual, 1200 MacArthur Boulevard, Mahwah, New Jersey 07340, USA
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  • William A. Stubblefield

    1. Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA
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Abstract

The toxicity of oils can be understood using the concept of toxic potential, or the toxicity of each individual component of the oil at the water solubility of that component. Using the target lipid model to describe the toxicity and the observed relationship of the solubility of oil components to log (KOW), it is demonstrated that components with lower log (KOW) have greater toxic potential than those with higher log (KOW). Weathering removes the lower-log (KOW) chemicals with greater toxic potential, leaving the higher-log (KOW) chemicals with lower toxic potential. The replacement of more toxically potent compounds with less toxically potent compounds lowers the toxicity of the aqueous phase in equilibrium with the oil. Observations confirm that weathering lowers the toxicity of oil. The idea that weathering increases toxicity is based on the erroneous use of the total petroleum hydrocarbons or the total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) concentration as if either were a single chemical that can be used to gauge the toxicity of a mixture, regardless of its makeup. The toxicity of the individual PAHs that comprise the mixture varies. Converting the concentrations to toxic units (TUs) normalizes the differences in toxicity. A concentration of one TU resulting from the PAHs in the mixture implies toxicity regardless of the specific PAHs that are present. However, it is impossible to judge whether 1 μg/L of total PAHs is toxic without knowing the PAHs in the mixture. The use of toxic potential and TUs eliminates this confusion, puts the chemicals on the same footing, and allows an intuitive understanding of the effects of weathering.

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