Spatial distribution and ecotoxicity of petroleum hydrocarbons in sediments from the Galicia continental shelf (NW Spain) after the Prestige oil spill

M A Franco, L Viñas, J A Soriano, D de Armas, J J González, R Beiras, N Salas, J M Bayona, J Albaigés
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2006, 53 (5): 260-71
The distribution of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons was determined in surface sediments collected at 36 stations along the Galicia continental shelf (NW Spain), following the Prestige oil spill. Sampling was performed in December 2002, just after the accident, and in February and September 2003. Concentrations of PAHs (summation operator 13 parent components) were in the range of 0.9-422 microg/kgdw, the highest values being close to coastal urban areas (e.g. Pontevedra and A Coruña), whereas in the stations of the area most heavily impacted by the spill (off Costa da Morte) concentrations were in the range of 14.8-89.6 microg/kgdw, with a certain predominance of alkylated compounds, which may suggest a mixture of petrogenic and pyrolytic sources. The detailed study of petrogenic molecular markers (e.g. steranes and triterpanes) showed the occurrence of an old (weathered) petrogenic chronic pollution in the shelf sediments but not of the Prestige oil, with the possible exception of few stations in the area of Costa da Morte. This was attributed to the heavy nature of the spilled oil that was barely dispersed in the water column and mainly stranded on the coast or sedimented in the form of oil patches. The addition of increasing amounts of fuel oil to a representative sediment sample showed that the molecular indices were indicative of the presence of the Prestige oil when the amount was above 1g/kg of sediment. The toxicity of selected samples (showing the higher PAH concentrations) was tested using the bivalve embryogenesis bioassay. Embryogenesis success reached high values in all cases (80-88%, with 86% in the control), indicating a lack of toxicity in the sediments and supporting the conclusion that the patchiness of the fuel eventually reaching the seafloor reduced its impact on the benthic communities of the Galician shelf.

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