Environmental impacts of the Chennai oil spill accident - A case study

Yuling Han, Indumathi M Nambi, T Prabhakar Clement
Science of the Total Environment 2018 June 1, 626: 795-806
Chennai, a coastal city in India with a population of over 7 million people, was impacted by a major oil spill on January 28th 2017. The spill occurred when two cargo ships collided about two miles away from the Chennai shoreline. The accident released about 75 metric tons of heavy fuel oil into the Bay of Bengal. This case study provides field observations and laboratory characterization data for this oil spill accident. Our field observations show that the seawalls and groins, which were installed along the Chennai shoreline to manage coastal erosion problems, played a significant role in controlling the oil deposition patterns. A large amount of oil was trapped within the relatively stagnant zone near the seawall-groin intersection region. The initial cleanup efforts used manual methods to skim the trapped oil and these efforts indeed helped recover large amount of oil. Our laboratory data show that the Chennai oil spill residues have unique fingerprints of hopanes and steranes which can be used to track the spill. Our weathering experiments show that volatilization processes should have played a significant role in degrading the oil during initial hours. The characterization data show that the source oil contained about 503,000 mg/kg of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) and 17,586 mg/kg of total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The field samples collected 6 and 62 days after the spill contained about 71,000 and 28,000 mg/kg of TPH and 4854 and 4016 mg/kg of total PAHs, respectively. The field samples had a relatively large percentage of heavy PAHs, and most of these PAHs are highly toxic compounds that are difficult to weather and their long-term effects on coastal ecosystems are largely unknown. Therefore, more detailed studies are needed to monitor and track the long term environmental impacts of the Chennai oil spill residues on the Bay of Bengal coastal ecosystem.

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