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Toxicity assessment of groundwater contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons at a well-characterized, aged, crude oil release site

October 1, 2018

Management of petroleum-impacted waters by monitored natural attenuation requires an understanding of the toxicology of both the original compounds released and the transformation products formed during natural breakdown. Here, we report data from a groundwater plume consisting of a mixture of crude oil compounds and transformation products in an effort to bridge the gap between groundwater quality information and potential biological effects of human exposures. Groundwater samples were characterized for redox processes, concentrations of nonvolatile dissolved organic carbon (NVDOC) and total petroleum hydrocarbons in the diesel range, as well as for activation of human nuclear receptors (hNR) and toxicologically relevant transcriptional pathways. Results show upregulation of several biological pathways, including peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma and alpha, estrogen receptor alpha, and pregnane X receptor (PXR) with higher levels of hNR activity observed in more contaminated samples. Our study of affected groundwater contaminated by a crude-oil release 39 years ago shows these types of waters may have the potential to cause adverse impacts on development, endocrine, and liver functioning in exposed populations. Additionally, positive trends in activation of some of the molecular targets (e.g., PXR) with increasing NVDOC concentrations (including polar transformation products) demonstrate the importance of improving our understanding of the toxicity associated with the unknown transformation products present in hydrocarbon-impacted waters. Our results begin to provide insight into the potential toxicity of petroleum-impacted waters, which is particularly timely given the ubiquitous nature of waters impacted by petroleum contamination not only recently but also in the past and the need to protect drinking-water quality.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Toxicity assessment of groundwater contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons at a well-characterized, aged, crude oil release site
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.8b03657
Authors Jennifer T. McGuire, Isabelle M. Cozzarelli, Barbara A. Bekins, Hannah Link, Dalma Martinović-Weigelt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Science & Technology
Index ID 70204589
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division