BOX 5-2 Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl Benzene, and Xylenes (BTEX)

BTEX is the collective name for benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes, the volatile aromatic compounds often found in discharges, and petroleum oils and products (Wang and Fingas, 1996). The behavior of the four compounds is somewhat similar when released to the environment and thus they are usually considered as a group. Most light crude oils contain BTEX usually from about 0.5 up to 5% or more. Gasoline can contain up to 40% BTEX. BTEX compounds are volatile and, if discharged into the sea, will rapidly volatilize into the air, and there is, in fact, a net loss of BTEX compounds. Because of this behavior, the discharges of BTEX were not considered in this study.

BTEX compounds are acutely toxic to aquatic organisms if contact is maintained. BTEX compounds are relatively soluble in water, the solubility of benzene is about 1400 mg/L and xylenes about 120 mg/L. Because of the volatility of BTEX, the time exposure to aquatic organisms may be short enough to avoid toxic effects. BTEX are generally neurotoxic to target organisms. Benzene, in particular, has also been found to be carcinogenic to mammals and humans.

Gasoline contains large amounts of BTEX. The bulk solubility of gasoline has been found to vary from 100 to 500 ppm, depending on the specific type of gasoline and its constituents. The aquatic toxicity of gasoline is relatively high. The fifty-percent lethal concentration to test organisms over a 48-hour period has been found to be 10 to 50 mg/L for Daphnia magna, the water flea, 5 to 15 mg/L for Artemia, small brine shrimp, and 5 to 10 mg/L for rainbow trout larvae.

Produced waters contain a variety of volatile hydrocarbons, including the BTEX series (Rabalais et al., 1991a,b). Produced waters generally have concentrations of dissolved salts much higher than sea water and therefore sink through the water column into which they are disposed. BTEX compounds in produced water discharged to well-mixed open ocean waters are diluted rapidly. Twenty meters down-current from a production platform discharging 11 million L/d of produced water containing an average of 6,410 μg/L total BTEX to the Bass Strait off southeast Australia, the average concentration of BTEX was 0.43 μg/L, a dilution of 14,900-fold (Terrens and Tait, 1996). In well-flushed, dispersive and deeper water environments of the Louisiana coast, the BTEX chemical contaminant signal may be negligible as close as 50-100 m from the point of discharge (Rabalais et al. 1991a,b). In shallower, less dispersive environments the produced water plume along with the BTEX spreads in a thin dense plume across the surface sediments of the receiving environment, and the chemical signature of the produced waters can be detected up to 1000 m from the point of discharge (Rabalais et al., 1991a, b). BTEX were detected in the water overlying the sediment surface near estuarine and coastal environments that were categorized as less dispersive or where the concentration of the BTEX was high in the discharge. Produced waters vary considerably in BTEX concentrations, but produced waters discharged into surface waters of Louisiana ranged from 26—4,700 μg/L benzene, 11—1,300 μg/L toluene, 2.1—75 μg/L ethylbenzene, and 8.8—520 μg/L xylenes. BTEX persisted in the density plume that dispersed across the sediment surface in poorly flushed Louisiana study areas in concentrations up to 86 μg/L benzene, 32 μg/L toluene, 2.3 μg/L ethylbenzene, and 17 μg/L xylenes; in more dispersive environments, they were not detected. BTEX in the overlying water column, if present, along with the more persistent polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in the sediments, likely contributed to the mortality of the benthic infauna where diminished benthic communities were documented adjacent to produced water discharges. The mortality could not be attributed to high salinity, because the salinity of the interstitial waters of the sediments examined were within the tolerance range of the euryhaline benthos found in the study area.

Data gathered from several spills that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated that the medium and higher molecular weight aromatic compounds, such as the alkylated phenanthrenes and alkylated dibenzothiophenes, are among the most persistent compounds in both animal tissues and sediments (Capuzzo, 1987). The half-lives of these compounds in marine bivalves following spill conditions can be quite long compared to the relatively rapid decline in monoaromatic compounds and unsubstituted phenanthrenes and naphthalenes (Oudot et al., 1981; Farrington et al., 1982; Anderson et al., 1983; Burns and Yelle-Simmons, 1994). The degree to which the persistence of these compounds in tissues interferes with normal metabolic processes that affect growth, development and reproduction has been the focus of much debate and research. Sublethal effects from hydrocarbon exposure can occur at concentrations several orders of magnitude lower than concentrations that induce acute toxic effects (Vandermeulen and Capuzzo, 1983). Impairment of feeding mechanisms, growth rates, development rates, energetics, reproductive output, recruitment rates and increased susceptibility to disease and other histopathological disorders are some examples of the types of sublethal effects that may occur with exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons (Capuzzo, 1987). Early developmental stages can be especially vulnerable to hydrocarbon exposure, and recruitment failure in chronically contaminated habitats may be related to direct toxic effects of hydrocarbon contaminated sediments (Krebs and Burns, 1977; Cabioch et al., 1980, Sanders et al., 1980; Elmgren et al., 1983).

Several studies have demonstrated the potential for oil residuals on beach sediments to have significant toxic effects on fish eggs and embryos. Heintz et al. (1999) reported embryo mortality of pink salmon with laboratory exposure to aqueous total PAH concentrations as low as 1 ppb total PAH derived from artificially weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil. This is consistent with the field observations of Bue et al. (1996) of embryo mortality of pink salmon in streams traversing oiled beaches following the spill from the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement