As part of SRP's focus on PAHs, we are sampling the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in air and water in the Gulf of Mexico related to the oil spill. The level of PAHs in crude oil varies between 0.2 and 7%, depending on location. Although this seems like a small percent, PAHs are a significant toxicological health concern.
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Map of OSU SRP Gulf oil spill and sampling locations
The use of complementary bio-analytical tools that quantify bioavailability processes is important to understand disasters such as oil spill risk. The project goals will be to use air and water passive sampler devices (PSDs) in the Gulf of Mexico before, during and post impact from the Deepwater Horizon Spill of spring 2010.
The PSDs are biological response indicator devices for gauging environmental stressors (BRIDGES) developed as part of a Superfund Program grant (Project 4). They bridge environmental exposure and biological response/effect. They can provide for rapid turnaround of data.
The PSDs sequester PAHs, oxygenated PAHs (OPAHs) as well as other organic contaminants. OPAHs are potentially more mobile, bioavailable and/or persistent than PAHs.
There is growing evidence that OPAHs have important toxicological significance. The principle sources of OPAHs in aquatic systems are from photo-reactions and microbial degradation of PAHs.
Dispersants that increase bioavailability coupled with sites exposed to UV may increase OPAHs.
Passive air sampler device on dock in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Kim Anderson, (Project Leader, Project 4; Core Leader, Analytical Chemistry Support Core D) has helped to firmly establish the PSD bio-analytical approach to assess spatial and temporal changes in the bioavailable fraction of contaminants at Gulf of Mexico contaminated sites. Dr. Anderson is teaming with Dr. Robert Tanguay (Project Leader, Project 3; Co-I, Project 4), who has developed the zebrafish aquatic model to define the mechanism by which environmental bioavailable chemicals from air and waters affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill produce developmental toxicity.
We are now poised to address important questions to bridge measurements of environmental levels and biological responses which would adversely impact human health. This work is timely, innovative, and relevant in that we are addressing the gap between environmental exposure from oil spills and biological responses by use of a time integrated, bio-analytical system for selectively measuring the environmental exposure that elicits a toxic response.
Other important SRP expertise for this project include:
Developing analytical methods for the dispersant chemicals (Jennifer Field)
Alabama sampling site
We have established regional contacts and sampling locations in:
The successful completion of this project will result in the quick development of data from novel bio-analytical tools from the Deepwater Horizon spill from Louisiana to Florida.
The technology and approach will be applicable to other environmental disasters and with other responsive models.
The bio-analytical tools will predicatively bridge environmental measurements with biological responses which will reduce uncertainties in risk assessments.
This study would be the first assessment of the concentrations and spatial and temporal distributions of bioavailable oxygenated PAHs in an active oil spill. Furthermore, it would be the first large-scale in situ study of the association between bioavailable PAHs and OPAHs in air and water pre, during and post a national disaster oil spill.
The potential for increased toxicity of PAHs when combined with other contaminants present in the Gulf including dispersants will have stand alone informational health value.
The SRP Gulf sampling is a project of the Bioavailable Air and Water Passive Sampling Gear for Gulf of Mexico and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (BRIDGES: Biological Response Indicator Devices for Gauging Environmental Stressors) The project is funded in part by NIEHS Superfund Research Program Grant # P42ES016465 and NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Center Grant # P30ES000210
Pictured left to right: Kevin Hobbie, Kim Anderson, Sarah Allan, Lane Tidwell
The project is funded in part by NIEHS Superfund Research Program Grant # P42ES016465 and NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Center Grant # P30ES000210
Accute effects: Effects having a sudden onset and lasting a short time.
Ambient air monitoring: A systematic assessment of pollutant levels by measuring the quantity and types of certain pollutants in the surrounding, outdoor air. Note that most PAHs in ambient air are the result of man-made processes.
Ames test: A biological assay to assess the mutagenic potential of chemical compounds.
Analyte: A substance or chemical constituent that is determined in an analytical procedure.
Black Oil: A black or very dark brown layer of oil. depending on the quantity spilled oil tends to quickly spread out over the water surface to a thickness of about 1 millimeter. However, from the air, it is impossible to tell how thick a black oil layer is.
Bioaccumulation: The uptake and retention of a bioavailable chemical from any one of or all possible external sources (water, food, substrate, air).
Bioavalability: Chemicals that are able to penetrate permeable tissues of an organism.
Bio-assay: A measurement of the effects of a substance on living organisms
Biodegradation: The chemical breakdown of materials by a physiological environment.
BRIDGES: Biological response indicator devices for gauging environmental stressors, Project 4 of the Superfund Program. More information.
Chronic effects: Chronic health effects are characterized by prolonged or repeated exposures over many days, months or years. Symptoms may not be immediately apparent.
Crude oil (crude oil petroleum): A fossil fuel formed from plant and animal remains many million of years ago. It comprises organic compounds built up from hydrogen and carbon atoms and is, accordingly, often referred to as hydrocarbons. Crude oil is occasionally found in springs or pools but is usually drilled from wells beneath the earth's surface.
Dispersants: Chemicals that are used to break down spilled oil into small droplets
Related link: Dispersants: A Guided Tour from NOAA
Related article: Ingredients of Controversial Dispersants Used on Gulf Spill Are Secrets No More (NY Times, 6-8-10)
Emulsions: A mixture of small droplets of oil and water.
Oil plumes: These are underwater globules of oil that do not float to the surface of the ocean. Scientists say microscopic oil droplets are forming these deep water oil bubbles. The heavy use of chemical dispersants, which breaks up surface oil, is said to have contributed to the formation of these plumes. Scientists are worried that these underwater globs will pose a threat to the marine ecosystem and that the oil could be absorbed by tiny animals and enter a food chain that builds to larger fish.
Oil Trajectory: NOAA uses a model to provide information about where a spill is likely to go.
Related link: NOAA Oil Spill Trajectory Maps
OPAHs: Oxygenated PAHs (oxy-PAHs)
Passive Sampling Device (PSD): A method of determining airborne and water concentrations of volatile contaminants. PSDs collect samples with a small badge-like device that relies on the diffusion of compounds to a collection surface or sorbent. The diffusion barrier across the badge confers a constant, predetermined effective flow rate that is only slightly affected by temperature and unaffected by pressure (or altitude). The PSD hangs in the sampling area for periods ranging from 8 hours to one month. After the sampling period, it is capped and returned to a laboratory for analysis using traditional methods.
Petroleum: Petroleum means "rock oil", from the Greek petros/Latin petra (rock), and the Greek elaion/Latin oleum (oil). The term petroleum is nowadays used as a common denotation for crude oil (mineral oil) and natural gas, i.e., the hydrocarbons from which various oil and gas products are made. Petroleum, then, is a collective term for hydrocarbons, whether solid, liquid or gaseous.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): See All About PAHs
Quality Assurance: The systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of the sampling project to ensure that standards of quality are being met.
Quality Control: Periodic checks to verify that data are generated, collected, handled, analyzed, and reported according to protocol.
Slick: A thin film of oil on the water’s surface.
Sorbents: Substances that take up and hold water or oil; sorbents used in oil spill cleanup are made of oleophilic materials.
Spreading: As soon as oil is spilled, it starts to spread out over the sea surface, initially as a single slick. The speed at which this takes place depends to a great extent upon the viscosity of the oil. Slicks quickly spread to cover extensive areas of the sea surface. Spreading is rarely uniform and large variations in the thickness of the oil are typical. After a few hours the slick will begin to break up and, because of winds, wave action and water turbulence, will then form narrow bands or windrows parallel to the wind direction. The rate at which the oil spreads is also determined by the prevailing conditions such as temperature, water currents, tidal streams and wind speeds. The more severe the conditions, the more rapid the spreading and breaking up of the oil.
Tar: A black or brown hydrocarbon material that ranges in consistency from a heavy liquid to a solid.
Tarball: Dense, black sticky spheres of hydrocarbons; formed from weathered oil.
Related flyer: NOAA on understanding tarballs (pdf)
Total Petrolium Hydrocarbons (TPH): A term used to describe a broad family of serveral hunderd chemical compounds that originally come from crude oil. TPH is really a mixture of chemicals. They are called hydrocarbons because almost all of them are made entirely from hydrogen and carbon. Crude oil can vary in how much of each chemical they contain. (ATSDR)
Toxicity: The degree to which a substance can harm humans or animals.
What are PAHs?
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of more than 100 chemicals composed of up to six benzene rings fused together such that any two adjacent benzene rings share two carbon bonds.
Where do PAHs come from?
The primary source of PAHs is from burning carbon-containing compounds. PAHs in air are produced by burning wood and fuel for homes. They are also contained in gasoline and diesel exhaust, soot, coke, and cigar and cigarette smoke. In addition, they are the byproducts of open fires, waste incinerators, coal gasification, and coke oven emissions. Foods that contain small amounts of PAHs include smoked, barbecued, or charcoal-broiled foods, roasted coffees, and sausages.
Classes of PAHs in the environment include:
1. Biogenic (minor)
Generated by high temperature combustion of organic matter
What happens to PAHs in the environment?
What is the connection between PAHs and human health?
PAHs are a human health concern. A number of studies show increased incidence of cancer (lung, skin, and urinary cancers) in humans exposed to PAH mixtures.
Many individual PAH compounds have been classified as probable or possible carcinogens by entities such as the National Toxicology Program and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Health effects of PAHs
The effects on human health will depend mainly on the extent of exposure (length of time, etc), the amount one is exposed to (or concentration), the innate toxicity of the PAHs and whether exposure occurs via inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. A variety of other factors can also affect health impacts from such exposure, including pre-existing health status and age.
The ability of PAHs to induce short-term health effects in humans is not clear. Occupational exposures to high levels of pollutant mixtures containing PAHs has resulted in symptoms such as eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and confusion. However, it is not known which of the mixture components were causing these effects. Mixtures of PAHs are known to cause skin effects in animals and humans such as irritation and inflammation. Anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene and naphthalene are direct skin irritants while anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are reported to be skin sensitizers, i.e. cause an allergic skin response in animals and humans.
Seventeen individual PAHs get more attention because of possiblity of exposure and harmful health affects. These 17 PAHs are:
How might I be exposed to PAHs?
What can I do to minimize my exposure to PAHs?
Since PAHs are found throughout the environment, it is difficult to avoid exposure. However, you can significantly reduce exposure by avoiding certain areas and by modifying some home and recreational activities. The following are practical and easy steps you can follow to reduce PAH exposure.
Note: Workers involved at the oil spill cleanup sites are covered by OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (1910.120 and 1926.65). This standard requires that workers be provided protective equipment and special training by specially trained personnel who have received extensive training.
PAH Sampling and Research in the Gulf of Mexico beginning May 11, 2010.
|Title||Impact of the deepwater horizon oil spill on bioavailable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Gulf of Mexico coastal waters.|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2012|
|Authors||Allan SE, Smith BW, Anderson KA|
|Journal||Environmental science & technology|
|Date Published||2012 Feb 21|
|Keywords||Environmental Monitoring, Gulf of Mexico, Petroleum Pollution, Polycyclic Hydrocarbons, Aromatic, Water Pollutants, Chemical|
An estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil and 2.1 million gallons of dispersants were released into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is a continued need for information about the impacts and long-term effects of the disaster on the Gulf of Mexico. The objectives of this study were to assess bioavailable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the coastal waters of four Gulf Coast states that were impacted by the spill. For over a year, beginning in May 2010, passive sampling devices were used to monitor the bioavailable concentration of PAHs. Prior to shoreline oiling, baseline data were obtained at all the study sites, allowing for direct before and after comparisons of PAH contamination. Significant increases in bioavailable PAHs were seen following the oil spill, however, preoiling levels were observed at all sites by March 2011. A return to elevated PAH concentrations, accompanied by a chemical fingerprint similar to that observed while the site was being impacted by the spill, was observed in Alabama in summer 2011. Chemical forensic modeling demonstrated that elevated PAH concentrations are associated with distinctive chemical profiles.
|Alternate Journal||Environ. Sci. Technol.|
Available from The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT), and the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) Network, which encourages families, pediatricians, and communities to work ogether to ensure that children are protected from exposure to environmental hazards.
Children are Vulnerable
Environmental hazards are especially harmful to children. They eat, drink, and breathe more than adults on a pound for pound basis. A child’s nose and mouth are closer to the ground than the nose and mouth of an adult; so children more easily breathe in pollutants in the air, which may accumulate close to the ground if they are heavier than air. Because children play on the ground, they are more likely to have skin contact with pollutants than adults. Toddlers may crawl and as a result, may get contaminated soil, sand and other substances on their hands and clothes. They may have increased exposure if their hands aren't washed before eating, if they put their hands in their mouths after crawling through a contaminated area or if there's absorption of chemicals across the skin from clothing, etc.
Children are in a critical period of development when toxic exposures can have profound negative effects, and their exploratory behavior often places them in direct contact with materials that adults would avoid. In the aftermath of an oil spill, particular attention should be paid to physical dangers, water contamination, and exposure to substances or situations that ould potentially harm children. This situation may become more complex if there are hurricanes/storms or floods.
Steps to Take to Protect Children from Hazards
The oil spill in the Gulf Coast may expose children to a number of hazards and concerns. Until the oil spill is resolved, the following should be kept in mind:
Recommendations for contact with shore areas or involvement with clean up efforts:
Potential for unknown risk:
There may be unknown risks or health effects from exposure to the oil or other toxic agents.
The oil washing up on shore is referred to as weathered oil. This means it has not only been mixed with seawater but also exposed to sunlight and air. It is not like crude oil coming out of the ground or refined oil like motor oil. For parents and health care providers, understanding the potential risks to children is difficult because so little is known about the toxicity of weathered oil and the resulting weathered oil mixed with sand which are often called “tar balls”. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) skin and respiratory problems were the most common complaints from workers who cleaned up previous spills, but little is known about long‐term effects. It is prudent to restrict children from touching or playing with oil that makes its way to shore and from swimming in water contaminated with oil or dispersants. Parents should check with local health officials to determine which beaches or shore areas are affected (see state links on main page).
Frequently asked questions:
1. What if my child is exposed to oil?
2. What if there is a bad smell or odor?
Smelling a bad odor does not automatically mean that the polluted air will cause injury. For many substances related to the spill, the ability to smell an odor may be at levels below those shown, primarily in adults, to cause injury.
There is very little information on these exposures to children, particularly over the long term. Children with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma may be more vulnerable. The most recent data, as of June 16, 2010, indicates that air levels of volatile organic compounds, semi‐volatile organic compounds, and sulfur containing compounds are below occupational health references but may be above some individual’s odor threshold. In addition, these levels may change over time as conditions in the gulf are changing. It is prudent, therefore, to periodically recheck monitoring information.
3. Should I wear a face mask of some kind?
4. My child has asthma, what should I do?
5. What about seafood contamination?
It is very important to learn about changing closures and to strictly obey all fishing and oyster bed restrictions. As of June 16, 2010, seafood caught in areas that remain open for fishing are recognized by public health and food experts as being safe to eat. However, to be safe, follow the usual rules and do not eat food that has an unpleasant or unusual smell or that astes differently than expected.
6. Is it safe for my children to play on the beach or go in the ocean?
Common sense would suggest that beachgoers should avoid swimming in water that's visibly contaminated by oil. Remember that children tend to swallow water when they swim unlike most adults. Crude oil contains many toxic chemicals, including volatile and semi‐volatile organic compounds. Fresh crude oil is a skin irritant that may cause redness, burning and even ulcers with prolonged contact. Not surprisingly, children can be more vulnerable to environmental contaminants than adults. Fortunately the more toxic chemicals tend to disperse and evaporate and the spill is far off shore.
Most of the oil washing up along the coast has been ‘weathered’ into tar balls that are less toxic. Even so, it is prudent to discourage your children from touching or playing ith any tar balls or oil slicks. Though the oil washing up on the beaches probably isn't as harsh, it's till a good idea to keep it off your skin.
7. How long should children be allowed to play outdoors when we can smell the oil?
8. Is my water safe to drink?
9. Members of my family are working on cleanup. Are there precautions we should take?
Talking to Children and Helping them to Cope is Important
Disclaimer: Based upon interpretation of the current literature, the organizations listed above are providing this guidance for persons who wish to take a precautionary approach to personal ecisions, and is not meant to substitute for personal medical consultation with your health care rovider.
The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Program wishes to acknowledge assistance in the evelopment by The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Clinical oxicology and the coendorsement of the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology .
This material was developed by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) and funded under the cooperative agreement award number 1U61TS00011801 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Acknowledgement: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the PEHSU by providing funds to ATSDR under InterAgency Agreement number DW75923013010.
Neither EPA nendorse the purchase of any commercial products or services mentioned in PEHSU publicat or ATSDR ions. July 1, 2010
The interactive map above shows the four sampling areas of OSU SRP.
Zoom in (+) for a closer look.
Shades represent population size in each county or parish.
Click on the region for a pop-up sharing the population by square mile and total population from the 2010 Census. Darker shades represent a higher population.
View the interactive map from GeoPlatform.gov/gulfresponse displaying near-real time information about the response effort. Developed by NOAA with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior, the site offers you a “one-stop shop” for spill response information.
[Info last updated: April 27, 2012]
Tools, Data, and News
Overview: In this lesson students will review the BP oil spill and learn about current ways we are cleaning it up. They will test different methods that are currently being used in the gulf clean-up. After testing they will analyze the different methods and determine the most efficient way to clean up the oil spill. This activity is appropriate for grades 6th-8th.
Available from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dispersants and Your Health
What are oil spill dispersants?
How are oil spill dispersants used?
What are the health threats of oil spill dispersants?
If your skin is exposed to dispersants for a long time, a rash and dry skin could develop. Dispersants can also irritate your eyes.
If you breathe in dispersants for a long time or several times they can irritate your nose, throat, and lungs.
Swallowing dispersants will cause upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If you are exposed to dispersants for a long time or several times they can also cause central nervous system effects; sleepiness; damage to your blood, kidney or liver; and a metallic taste in your mouth.
How can I avoid the health threats of oil spill dispersants?
If you are working on the spill, wear nitrile or PVC gloves, coveralls, boots, and chemical splash goggles to keep dispersants off your skin and out of your eyes.
If you breathe in dispersants, move to an area where the air is clearer.
If you get dispersants on your skin, immediately wash with soap and water. If symptoms develop, seek medical attention.
If you get dispersants in your eyes, flush them with water for 15 minutes.
If you swallow dispersants, do not try to vomit, as this may get dispersants into your lungs and cause pneumonia. Wash out your mouth with water and seek medical attention.
[Info last updated: April 20, 2012]
Be sure to refer to local health information from each specific state.
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