Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 1090
Title: Natural sunlight and residual fuel oils are an acutely lethal combination for fish embryos
Author: K. Hatlen, C. A. Sloan, D. G. Burrows, T. K. Collier, N. L. Scholz, J. P. Incardona
Publication Year: 2010
Journal: Aquatic Toxicology
Volume: 99
Issue: 1
Pages: 56-64
Keywords: Oil spills, PAHs, Heterocyclic compounds, Phototoxicity

The majority of studies characterizing the mechanisms of oil toxicity in fish embryos and larvae have focused largely on unrefined crude oil. Few studies have addressed the toxicity of modern bunker fuels, which contain residual oils that are the highly processed and chemically distinct remains of the crude oil refinement process. Here we use zebrafish embryos to investigate potential toxicological differences between unrefined crude and residual fuel oils, and test the effects of sunlight as an additional stressor. Using mechanically dispersed oil preparations, the embryotoxicity of two bunker oils was compared to a standard crude oil from the Alaska North Slope. In the absence of sunlight, all three oils produced the stereotypical cardiac toxicity that has been linked to the fraction of tricyclic aromatic compounds in an oil mixture. However, the cardiotoxicity of bunker oils did not correlate strictly with the concentrations of tricyclic compounds. Moreover, when embryos were sequentially exposed to oil and natural sunlight, the bunker oils produced a rapid onset cell-lethal toxicity not observed with crude oil. To investigate the chemical basis of this differential toxicity, a GC/MS full scan analysis was used to identify a range of compounds that were enriched in the bunker oils. The much higher phototoxic potential of chemically distinct bunker oils observed here suggests that this mode of action should be considered in the assessment of bunker oil spill impacts, and indicates the need for a broader approach to understanding the aquatic toxicity of different oils.

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