Overview of avian toxicity studies for the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
By: , and 



The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 establishes liability for injuries to natural resources because of the release or threat of release of oil. Assessment of injury to natural resources resulting from an oil spill and development and implementation of a plan for the restoration, rehabilitation, replacement or acquisition of natural resources to compensate for those injuries is accomplished through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. The NRDA process began within a week of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred on April 20, 2010. During the spill, more than 8500 dead and impaired birds representing at least 93 avian species were collected. In addition, there were more than 3500 birds observed to be visibly oiled. While information in the literature at the time helped to identify some of the effects of oil on birds, it was not sufficient to fully characterize the nature and extent of the injuries to the thousands of live oiled birds, or to quantify those injuries in terms of effects on bird viability. As a result, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed various assessment activities to inform NRDA injury determination and quantification analyses associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including avian toxicity studies. The goal of these studies was to evaluate the effects of oral exposure to 1–20 ml of artificially weathered Mississippi Canyon 252 oil kg bw-1 day-1 from one to 28 days or one to five applications of oil to 20% of the bird's surface area. It was thought that these exposure levels would not result in immediate or short-term mortality but might result in physiological effects that ultimately could affect avian survival, reproduction and health. These studies included oral dosing studies, an external dosing study, metabolic and flight performance studies and field-based flight studies. Results of these studies indicated changes in hematologic endpoints including formation of Heinz bodies and changes in cell counts. There were also effects on multiple organ systems, cardiac function and oxidative status. External oiling affected flight patterns and time spent during flight tasks indicating that migration may be affected by short-term repeated exposure to oil. Feather damage also resulted in increased heat loss and energetic demands. The papers in this special issue indicate that the combined effects of oil toxicity and feather effects in avian species, even in the case of relatively light oiling, can significantly affect the overall health of birds.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Overview of avian toxicity studies for the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment
Series title Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2017.05.014
Volume 146
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description 7 p.
First page 4
Last page 10
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