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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and putative PAH-degrading bacteria in Galveston Bay, TX (USA), following Hurricane Harvey (2017)


Hurricane Harvey was the wettest hurricane in US history bringing record rainfall and widespread flooding in Houston, TX. The resulting storm- and floodwaters largely emptied into the Galveston Bay. Surface water was collected from 10 stations during five cruises to investigate the concentrations and sources of 16 priority polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and relative abundances of PAH-degrading bacteria. Highest PAH levels (102–167 ng/L) were detected during the first sampling event, decreasing to 36–69 ng/L within a week. Four sites had elevated concentrations of carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene that exceeded the Texas Standard for Surface Water threshold. The highest relative abundances of known PAH-degrading bacteria Burkholderiaceae, Comamonadaceae, and Sphingomonadales were detected during the first and second sampling events. PAH origins were about 60% pyrogenic, 2% petrogenic, and the remainder of mixed sources. This study improves our understanding on the fate, source, and distributions of PAHs in Galveston Bay after an extreme flooding event.

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Data availability

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at under Unique Data Identifier (UDI) R6.x807.000:0047 and DOI: 10.7266/PGC99C7D.


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We thank the crew of the R/V Trident and the Quigg Lab for their help in sample collection.


This research was funded by the grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) through the research Consortium on Aggregation and Degradation of Dispersants and Oil by Microbial Exopolymers (ADDOMEx x2).

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Correspondence to Hernando P. Bacosa.

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Responsible Editor: Vedula VSS Sarma

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Bacosa, H.P., Steichen, J., Kamalanathan, M. et al. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and putative PAH-degrading bacteria in Galveston Bay, TX (USA), following Hurricane Harvey (2017). Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 34987–34999 (2020).

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