Field reconnaissance and estimation of petroleum hydrocarbon and heavy metal contents of soils affected by the Ebocha-8 oil spillage in Niger Delta, Nigeria

Leo C Osuji, Chukunedum M Onojake
Journal of Environmental Management 2006, 79 (2): 133-9
Field reconnaissance of the Ebocha-8 oil spill-affected site at Obiobi/Obrikom in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria was carried out to assess the extent of damage to the terrestrial ecosystem and delimit the epicenter of oil spillage. Following three successive reconnaissance surveys, the area to be sampled was delimited (200 x 200 m2), and soil samples were collected using the grid method from three replicate quadrats at two depths, surface (0-15 cm) and subsurface (15-30 cm). A geographically similar area located 50 m adjacent to the oil-polluted area was used as a reference (control) site. Total hydrocarbon content (THC) and heavy metal concentrations were later determined in the laboratory by extraction and spetrophotemetric techniques. Generally, the THC of soils at surface and subsurface depths of the oil-polluted plots was 2.06 x 10(4) +/- 4.97 x 10(3) mg/kg and 1.67 x 10(3) +/- 3.61 x 10(2) mg/kg soil, respectively, (no overlap in standard errors at 95% confidence limit) while concentrations of heavy metals(Pb, Cd, V, Cu and Ni) were enhanced, especially at the surface. The high levels of THC and heavy metals may predispose the site, which hitherto served as arable agricultural land, to impaired fertility and possible conflagration. When concentrations of heavy metals reach the levels obtained in this study, they may become toxic to plants or possibly bio-accumulate, thus leading to toxic reactions along the food chain. While the spilled-oil may have contributed to the enhanced levels of the metals in the affected soils, physico-chemical properties of the soils, mobility of metals, and the intense rainfall and flooding that preceded the period of study may have also contributed in part to their enhanced concentrations. The presence of high hydrocarbon content may cause oxygen deprivation, which may result in the death of soil fauna by asphyxiation. There is, therefore, an urgent need to clear the affected site of these excess hydrocarbon deposits so as to enhance the rehabilitation process of the affected mat layer of soils. Other appropriate mitigating measures, such as subsequent monitoring of hydrocarbon levels at suitable intervals after the clean up activities, are also recommended, with reference to the findings of this study, for effective management of the affected area.

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