U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1999) 18:3, pp. 494–503


We incubated pink salmon embryos under three exposure conditions, direct contact with oil-coated gravel, effluent from oil-coated gravel, and direct contact with gravel coated with very weathered oil (VWO). Embryo mortalities and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) accumulation in embryo tissues during the direct-contact and effluent exposure experiments were not significantly different, indicating that PAH accumulation was mediated by aqueous transport. Mortality rates for embryos exposed initially to a total PAH concentration (TPAH) of 1.0 ppb were significantly higher than controls when the PAH were derived from VWO. The same aqueous TPAH concentration failed to increase mortality rates when the PAH were derived from less weathered oil, indicating that toxicity of effluents from the VWO was primarily associated with the larger PAH. We conclude that water quality standards for TPAH above 1.0 ppb may fail to protect fish embryos. Further, pink salmon embryos incubating in Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez oil spill may have accumulated lethal concentrations of PAH from interstitial water that was contaminated when it percolated through oil reservoirs located upstream from salmon redds.