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Evaluation of toxicity of Deepwater Horizon slick oil on spat of the oyster Crassostrea virginica


The 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig generated the largest marine oil spill in US history with millions of barrels of crude oil released in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is an ecologically and economically important species in the northern GoM. Due to its biological characteristics (sessile, filter feeding), juvenile oysters may have been affected. This study investigated the effects of surface-collected DWH oil prepared as high-energy water-accommodated fraction (HEWAF) on the survival of 2-month-old oyster spat, and evaluated the potential impacts of HEWAF on particle clearance rate and spat tissue. Exposure of oysters to a range of oil/HEWAF (0–7–66–147–908–3450 μg tPAH50 (sum of 50 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) L−1) resulted in non-dose-dependent mortalities and reduced clearance rates of algal food (Tisochrysis lutea). A morphometric study of the digestive tubules (DGTs) indicated a dose-dependent response to oil exposure on lumen dilation, on epithelium thinning of the DGT, and a significant change in DGT synchrony (LOEC = 66 μg tPAH50 L−1). This finding suggests that structural changes occurred in the digestive gland of exposed oysters most likely due to an oil-related stress. In addition, histological observations showed that tissues in contact with HEWAF (gills, palp, connective tissue, digestive gland) were adversely impacted at ≥ 7 μg tPAH50 L−1, and exhibited pathological symptoms typical of an inflammatory response (e.g., hemocyte diapedesis and infiltration, syncytia, epithelium sloughing).

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The findings and conclusions presented in this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or of any other Trustees for the BP/Deepwater Horizon NRDA. We would like to thank the Abt Associates, particularly Michelle Krasnec and Jeffrey Morris, for their contributions. We thank Scott Rikard at the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory, Dauphin Island, AL, for providing the oyster spat. We are also grateful to Inke Sunila at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture for her unlimited knowledge on shellfish histopathology and to Hélène Hégaret for a review of an earlier version of the manuscript. Finally, this study would not have been possible without the technical assistance from the graduate students and staff at the Vester Field Station, especially Gaelle Richard, Molly Rybovich, Nicole Martin, Emily Standen-Nickols, and Audrey Barbe.


This work was supported by funds provided as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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Correspondence to Julien Vignier.

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Responsible editor: Cinta Porte

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Initial concentrations, expressed in μg L−1, for the 50 PAH analytes (parent and alkyl homologs) measured in the fresh stock solutions of HEWAF (oil loading rate of 2 g L−1) throughout the 10 day-exposure of oyster spat. Generalized subclasses are divided by dotted lines and noted on the figure (GIF 105 kb)

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Vignier, J., Rolton, A., Soudant, P. et al. Evaluation of toxicity of Deepwater Horizon slick oil on spat of the oyster Crassostrea virginica . Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 1176–1190 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0476-2

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  • Oyster spat
  • Deepwater Horizon oil
  • Sublethal
  • Tissue
  • Inflammatory response
  • Histopathology