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Investigation of the sublethal effects of some petroleum refinery effluents


In Canada, environmental regulations for protection of the biota from the adverse effects of effluents from petroleum refineries have tended to focus on acute toxicity. There is concern those effluents may have other subtle, but still deleterious, long-term effects on aquatic ecosystems. We have used a battery of toxicity tests to assess the acute toxicity, genotoxicity, and chronic toxicity of effluent samples from two Ontario refineries. The test organisms included representatives of the bacterial, algal, plant, cladoceran, and fish communities. The results of our preliminary study indicate that the effluent samples had little acute toxicity to the test organisms. There were indications of some sublethal toxicity to Ceriodaphnia dubia, Panagrellus redivivus, and Pimephales promelas. One of the effluents inhibited the growth of Selanastrum capricornutum (IC50 of 59.9%) and Lemna gibba (IC25 of 73.3%) and also caused a 15 percent reduction in the germination of Lactuca sativa seeds. The SOS-Chromotest, a commercially available test that measures the activity of a bacterial DNA repair system, detected genotoxic effects in a single effluent that had been concentrated ten fold. There was no apparent relationship between several chemical parameters and the observed sublethal effects. Further research is needed to establish whether or not the observed toxic effects are typical of effluents from Ontario refineries.

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Sherry, J.P., Scott, B.F., Nagy, E. et al. Investigation of the sublethal effects of some petroleum refinery effluents. J Aquat Ecosyst Stress Recov 3, 129–137 (1994).

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Key words

  • petroleum
  • refinery
  • effluent
  • acute toxicity
  • sublethal effects