The fate of saturated and aromatic hydrocarbons discharged into the coastal Baltic Sea environment from the TSESIS oil spill has been studied in the acute and postacute (one year) phases of the spill. Periodic samples of Mytilus edulis (mussels) from eight littoral zone stations and Macoma balthica from nine soft bottom stations were obtained as well as sediment trap samples and surface sediment samples. Glass capillary gas chromatography and gas chromatographic mass spectrometry were used as the analytical tools to determine saturated and aromatic hydrocarbon composition and concentrations in these samples.
Sediment trap samples indicated that sizable quantities of chemically and microbially weathered oil were sedimented, and available for benthic uptake shortly after the spill. After initial uptake of sedimented oil (500 to 1000 μ/g dry weight), Macoma populations appear to have begun slow depuration through the first winter after the spill, but TSESIS oil was again introduced to the benthic stations studied during the following summer. Mytilus populations in the region were severely impacted by the oil. Initial depuration of spilled oil during the first month was rapid and nearly complete at all but the most heavily impacted stations one year after the spill. The post-spill depuration of assimilated hydrocarbons was characterised by a relative retention of alkylated dibenzothiophenes and alkylated phenanthrenes compared to their unsubstituted parent compounds and compared with the entire homologous naphthalene series.
These data suggest that petroleum hydrocarbons from the TSESIS spill have become a chronic source of degraded saturated and aromatic hydrocarbons to the soft bottom benthic communities. Petroleum hydrocarbons in the benthic environment from this spill appear to reside in the difficulty sampled and mobile flucculent layer at the sediment/water interface and may affect epifaunal communities for an extended period of time.
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