Characterizing Crude Oil Toxicity to Early-Life Stage Fish Based On a Complex Mixture: Are We Making Unsupported Assumptions?
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Characterizing Crude Oil Toxicity to Early-Life Stage Fish Based On a Complex Mixture: Are We Making Unsupported Assumptions?

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  • Journal Title:
    Environmental Science & Technology
  • Description:
    Numerous studies of the water-soluble fraction (WSF) from crude oil have concluded that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the primary causative agents for early life stage (ELS) fish toxicity. Noteworthy is the lack of studies demonstrating that the sum of PAHs are capable of causing toxic effects in ELS fish at the low levels claimed (0.1–5 μg/L) without being part of a complex crude oil mixture. Crude oil and the WSF are composed of thousands of other compounds that co-occur and likely contribute to crude oil toxicity. Based on the available data, it appears that the syndrome of effects (lower heart rate, edemas, and morphological abnormalities) for ELS fish exposed to the aqueous fraction of a crude oil mixture is commonly observed in studies exposing fish embryos to high concentrations of a variety of compounds and may be a nonspecific response. We conclude that the available data support the hypothesis that this syndrome of effects is likely the result of baseline toxicity (not receptor based) due to membrane disruption and resulting alteration in ion (e.g., calcium and potassium) homeostasis. We acknowledge the possibility of some compounds in the WSF capable of causing a specific receptor based toxicity response to ELS fish; however, such compounds have not been identified nor their receptor characterized. Concluding that PAHs are the main toxic compounds for crude oil exposure is misleading and does not result in guideline values that can be useful for environmental protection. Water quality guidelines for any single chemical or suite of chemicals must be based on a complete understanding of exposure concentrations, mechanism of action, potency, and resulting response. This review focuses on the toxic effects reported for fish embryos and the purported toxic concentrations observed in the aqueous phase of an oil/water mixture, the known levels of toxicity for individual PAHs, a toxic unit approach for characterizing mixtures, and the potential molecular initiating event for ELS toxicity in fish. This review also has implications for a large number of studies exposing ELS fish to a variety of compounds at high concentrations that result in a common baseline toxic response.
  • Source:
    Environmental Science & Technology, 53(19), 11080-11092
  • Document Type:
  • Rights Information:
    Accepted Manuscript
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