Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Reports

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One hundred and one sediment cores were collected to characterize the spatial distribution of petroleum hydrocarbons within and just outside Blind Pass, St. Pete Beach, Florida. Twenty-five percent of the cores exhibited levels of petroleum hydrocarbons above detection limits of the gas chromatograph/flame ionization detector (GC/FID) (0.01 mg/Kg), but at generally low concentrations. Petroleum hydrocarbon speciation studies of these samples (gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy [GC/MS]) indicate above-detection level (1 μg/Kg) petroleum hydrocarbons are similar to the non-volatile petroleum hydrocarbons found in a Bouchard 155 reference sample collected after the 1993 oil spill in the area, but are in a much degraded and weathered state. Individual petroleum hydrocarbons were, in all but one case, below the threshold effective level (TEL) described in the literature (MacDonald, 1994). The petroleum hydrocarbons were primarily found at 100-300 cm depth in Blind Pass cores. Above-detection level petroleum hydrocarbons were generally found in samples from cores in the center of the channel, near the edges of the shoal, and just outside of Blind Pass. A second mixture of hydrocarbons, primarily phthalates, ketones, and ether, was found at relatively shallow core depths (0-99 cm) in the Mid- and North End Channel cores. These suggest a separate source of contamination, possibly storm water runoff.

The fuel fluorescence detector (FFD) probe was investigated for its ability to detect petroleum hydrocarbons in marine sediments. When analyzed with the FFD, all sediments from the cores produced peaks of fluorescence, but none above the background levels of Blind Pass native sediments. All but two samples analyzed by GC/FID were below the detection limits (100 ppm) of the FFD. These samples were found in dark-colored sediments. The combination of the detection limits of the instrument, sediment color, and the degraded nature of the heavier weight petroleum hydrocarbons may have resulted in fluorescence outputs below background levels.

These studies demonstrate that the distribution of petroleum hydrocarbons within Blind Pass sediments is generally low and patchy. However, 25% of the cores exhibited levels above detection using GC/FID/MS. These cores could be subjected to individual speciation studies which indicate generally below TEL levels and an association of some, but not all, with the 1993 oil spill in Blind Pass.

Appendix A provides photographs and tables for sediment subsamples which exhibited total petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations above detection limits, while Appendix B presents the results from fuel fluorescence detector probe analyses. A discussion of the results of the study in relation to sediment quality guidelines and soil cleanup target level guidance documents is included as Appendix C. Some preliminary results using the above techniques on core samples from the nearby John’s Pass are presented in Appendix D.

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NOAA Technical Memorandum