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Bioaccumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by marine organisms.

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  • 1Environmental Conservation Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, WA 98112, USA.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous in the marine environment, occurring at their highest environmental concentrations around urban centers. While they can occur naturally, the highest concentrations are mainly from human activities, and the primary sources are combustion products and petroleum. Two factors, lipid and organic carbon, control to a large extent the partitioning behavior of PAHs in sediment, water, and tissue; the more hydrophobic a compound, the greater the partitioning to these phases. These two factors, along with the octanol-water partition coefficient, are the best predictors of this partitioning and can be used to determine PAH behavior and its bioavailability in the environment. It is well known that the lipid of organisms contains the highest levels of hydrophobic compounds such as PAHs, and that organic carbon associated with sediment or dissolved in water can have the greatest influence on PAH bioavailability. Partitioning of combustion-derived PAHs between water and sediment may be much less than predicted, possibly because associations with particles are much stronger than expected. This reduced partitioning may produce erroneous results in predicting bioaccumulation where uptake from water is important. Accumulation of PAHs occurs in all marine organisms; however, there is a wide range in tissue concentrations from variable environmental concentrations, level and time of exposure, and species ability to metabolize these compounds. PAHs generally partition into lipid-rich tissues, and their metabolites can be found in most tissues. In fish, liver and bile accumulate the highest levels of parent PAH and metabolites; hence, these are the best tissues to analyze when determining PAH exposure. In invertebrates, the highest concentrations can be found in the internal organs, such as the hepatopancreas, and tissue concentrations appear to follow seasonal cycles, which may be related to variations in lipid content or spawning cycles. The major route of uptake for PAHs has been debated for years. For the more water-soluble PAHs, it is believed that the main route of uptake is through ventilated water and that the more hydrophobic compounds are taken in mainly through ingestion of food or sediment. There are many variables, such as chemical hydrophobicity, uptake efficiency, feeding rate, and ventilatory volume, which may affect the outcome. The route of uptake may be an important issue for short-term events; however, under long-term exposure and equilibrium conditions between water, prey, and sediment, the route of uptake may be immaterial because the same tissue burdens will be achieved regardless of uptake routes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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