Biology Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Uptake of Heavy Metals from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by soft tissues and shells of the coastal oyster Crassostrea virginica

Event Name/Location

American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, 2011

Presntation Date


Document Type

Conference Proceeding


The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which dumped more than 600,000 tons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) between April and August 2010 is the largest accidental spill in history. While immediate environmental impacts of the spill, such as direct and fatal fouling of wildlife and the physical contamination of coastal areas were easily observed, any long-term effects of the spill are still being determined. Here we examined the incorporation of spill components into the shells and soft tissues of the American oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Specifically, we searched for evidence that heavy metals or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present in the carbonate shell (metals only) or various tissues of the oyster. Crassostrea virginica is a species of great economic significance, and is also an important basal primary consumer in the coastal GOM food web. Preliminary evidence presented in 2010 compared shells of specimens from the GOM collected in the 20th century, May 2010 prior to landfall of Deepwater oil on the Louisiana coast, and August 2010. Those results indicated that specimens collected in August 2010 had relatively higher concentrations of vanadium (V) and lead (Pb) in their shells compared to historical and May 2010 specimens. Those results have now been confirmed, and we show that specimens collected in August 2010, after exposure to the spill, have significantly higher concentrations of V, Pb and chromium (Cr) in their shells. Furthermore, examination of soft tissues shows that V, Pb and cobalt (Co) are present in significantly higher concentrations in gill and muscle tissues of August 2010 specimens. Analyses of PAH concentrations are currently being conducted on the soft tissues of specimens collected in May and August 2010, as well as specimens collected outside of spill-affected areas in the GOM. Ultimately, compilation of contaminant occurrences and concentrations coupled with food web models will allow us to predict the potential for distribution of the contaminants to other species in the community.

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