Current issues confounding the rapid toxicological assessment of oil spills
Oil spills of varying magnitude occur every year, each presenting a unique challenge to the local ecosystem. The complex, changeable nature of oil makes standardised risk assessment difficult. Our review of the state of science regarding oil’s unique complexity; biological impact of oil spills and use of rapid assessment tools, including commercial toxicity kits and bioassays, allows us to explore the current issues preventing effective, rapid risk assessment of oils. We found that despite the advantages to monitoring programmes of using well validated standardised tests, which investigate impacts across trophic levels at environmentally relevant concentrations, only a small percentage of the available tests are specialised for use within the marine environment, or validated for the assessment of crude oil toxicity. We discuss the use of rapid tests at low trophic levels in addition to relevant sublethal toxicity assays to allow the characterisation of oil, dispersant and oil and dispersant mixture toxicity. We identify novel, passive dosing techniques as a practical and reproducible means of improving the accuracy and maintenance of nominal concentrations. Future work should explore the possibility of linking this tiered testing system with ecosystem models to allow the prediction and risk assessment of the entire ecosystem.
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