Biology Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Determination and Quantification of Metals in the Shells of Crassostrea virginica After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Utilizing Atomic Absorption Spectrometry

Event Name/Location

AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, December 11-15, 2017

Presntation Date


Document Type



The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig explosion on April 20, 2010 resulted in the release of 685,000 tons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) over a period of three months. There were obvious immediate effects, but the long-term ramifications are still being studied.

The primary constituent of crude oil is hydrocarbons with other organic compounds containing nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. There are also a number of trace metals with the most abundant frequently being iron, nickel, copper and vanadium. These do not degrade like organic materials. However, the exact composition varies among the production sites. The oil from the DWH rig was classified as light crude which is moderately volatile.

Natural oil seeps occur in the environment, but the DWH spill represented an acute impact. Trace amounts of heavy metals are a normal part of the composition of marine organisms, but can be toxic in high concentrations. Bivalved molluscs bioaccumulate heavy metals in their tissues and shells, and are therefore often useful as monitors of environmental pollution. We thus used the Eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica to determine the impact of the spill by measuring the concentrations of metals in the shells utilizing flame emission atomic absorption spectrometry. We focused on the hypothesis that DWH spill exposure resulted in an increase in metal uptake into the shells. Specimens spanned the years 2010 to 2014 and ranged from Grand Isle, LA to Apalachicola Bay, FL.

Vanadium had the greatest concentration in the shells, and along with copper, cadmium, zinc and iron displayed an upward trend of increase from 2010 to 2013, with a decline in 2014. However there was unexpected variability, as the specimens from Apalachicola Bay, FL had higher levels of vanadium when compared to those from Grand Isle, LA. Ongoing work includes an increase of sample sizes from the same geographic localities and time period.


Abstract #OS23A-1362