Bad news for the Gulf of Mexico: a study released this week sheds new light on the toxicity of oil in aquatic environments, and shows that environmental impact studies currently in use may be inadequate….
The key finding involved the embryos of Pacific herring that spawn in the [San Francisco Bay, which was hit by an oil spill in 2007]. The fish embryos absorbed the oil and then, when exposed to UV rays in sunlight, physically disintegrated. This is called phototoxicity, and has not previously been taken into account when talking about oil spills.
Photos from a UC Davis/NOAA study show the effects of phototoxicity in Pacific herring embryos. Embryos on the left are unexposed to oil; those on the right have been in oil and then exposed to sunlight and show cells destroyed.
After the BP oil disaster, I wrote about the toxicity of oil (see “BP’s dispersants are toxic — but not as toxic as dispersed oil“). Turns out oil is even more toxic than we thought, as a new study from the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in collaboration with NOAA finds.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study is titled, “Unexpectedly high mortality in Pacific herring embryos exposed to the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay” (subs. req’d). That spill occurred when a “tanker hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.”
Here’s more from the L. A. Times on the phototoxicity study: