Oil Pollution: Persistence and Degradation of Spilled Fuel Oil

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Science  09 Jun 1972:
Vol. 176, Issue 4039, pp. 1120-1122
DOI: 10.1126/science.176.4039.1120


In September 1969, approximately 600 metric tons of number 2 fueloil were spilled in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Two years later, fuel oil hydrocarbons still persisted in the marsh and in offshore sediments. Hydrocarbon degradation is slow, especially below the immediate sediment surface and appears to proceed principally through microbial utilization of alkanes and through partial dissolution of the lower-boiling aromatic hydrocarbons. The boiling range of the spilled oil and the relative abundances of homologous hydrocarbons (for example, phytane and pristane) have been well preserved. The findings are in agreement with the known geochemical stability of hydrocarbons. Fuel oil is an appreciable fraction of whole crude oil. This fact suggests that oil products and crude oils have a considerable environmental persistence.

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