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Accumulation and release of petroleum-derived aromatic hydrocarbons by four species of marine animals


When exposed to oil-contaminated seawater, marine animals accumulate a wide variety of petroleum hydrocarbons in their tissues. Generally, the aromatic hydrocarbons are accumulated to a greater extent and are retained longer than the alkanes. In all species tested, accumulation of aromatic hydrocarbons appears to be dependent primarily on a partitioning of the hydrocarbons between the exposure water and the tissue lipids. Current evidence indicates that binding of hydrocarbons to tissue lipids is by hydrophobic interactions and not by covalent bonding. Bioaccumulation factors (tissue: water concentration ratio) increase in proportion to the increase in molecular weight of the aromatic hydrocarbons. When returned to oil-free seawater, marine animals rapidly release the accumulated hydrocarbons from their tissues. Release rates are species-dependent. Shrimp and fish, which can metabolize aromatic hydrocarbon, release them more rapidly than clams and oysters, which apparently lack the detoxifying enzymes. Release of hydrocarbons to background or undetectable levels requires from 2 to 60 days. The high molecular weight aromatic hydrocarbons are released more slowly than the low molecular weight hydrocarbons.

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Communicated by M.R. Tripp, Newark

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Neff, J.M., Cox, B.A., Dixit, D. et al. Accumulation and release of petroleum-derived aromatic hydrocarbons by four species of marine animals. Mar. Biol. 38, 279–289 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00388940

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  • Hydrocarbon
  • Alkane
  • Release Rate
  • High Molecular Weight
  • Water Concentration