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A SMALL OIL SPILL

Oil is much more persistent and destructive to marine organisms and to man's marine food resources then scientists had thought. Earlier interpretations of the environmental effect of oil spills that were based on subjective observation, often over a short time span, have questionalbe validity. Crude oil and oil products are persistent poisons, resembling in their longevity DDT, PCB and other synthetic materials. Like other long-lasting poisons that, in some properties, resemble the natural fats of the organisms, hydrocarbons from oil spills enter the marine food chain and can then be passed from prey to predator where they may become a hazard to marine life and even to man himself. Natural mechanisms for the degradation of oil at sea exist--the most important of which is bacterial decomposition. Unfortunately, this is least effective for the most poisonous compounds in oil. It has been thought that many of the immediately toxic low-boiling aromatic hydrocarbons are volatile and evaporate rapidly from the oil spilled at sea. This was not the case at West Falmouth, where the low-boiling hydrocarbons found their way into the sediments and organisms. The authors believe that the importance of evaporation has been overestimated. A growing body of evidence indicates that oil as well as other pollutants may have seriously damaging biological effects at extremely low concentrations, previously considered harmless. Some of this information was presented in Rome at the December 1970 Food and Agriculatur Organization's Conference on Effects of Marine Pollution on Living Resources and Fishing. Oil may also concentrate other fat-soluble poisons, such as many insecticides and chemical intermediates. Dissolved in an oil film, these poisons may reach a concentration many times higher than that which occurs in the water column. In this way other pollutants may become available to organisms that would not normally be exposed to the substances and at concentrations that could not be reached in the absence of oil.

  • Authors:
    • Blumer, M
    • Sanders, H L
    • Grassle, J F
    • Hampson, G R
  • Publication Date: 1971-3

Media Info

  • Features: Figures; Photos; References;
  • Pagination: p. 2-12
  • Serial:

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00019550
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Maxwell Reprint Company
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Nov 25 1973 12:00AM