High Numbers of Vibrio vulnificus in Tar Balls Collected from Oiled Areas of the North-Central Gulf of Mexico Following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Year:
2011
Journal:
EcoHealth
Volume:
8/4
Pages:
507-511
Author:
Tao, Z;Bullard, Stephen A.;Arias, Covadonga R.
Category:
Pub ID:
2543
Abstract:
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was the largest oil spill in USA history releasing approximately 4.9
million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Soon after the spill started, tar balls and other forms of
weathered oil appeared in large numbers on beaches in Mississippi and Alabama. In this study, we analyzed tar
balls for total aerobic bacterial (TAB) counts and also for the presence of Vibrio vulnificus, a human pathogen
known to be abundant in the Gulf Coast environment and capable of causing severe wound infections by
contact with contaminated surfaces. Our results showed that TAB counts were significantly higher in tar balls
than in sand and seawater collected at the same location. In addition, V. vulnificus numbers were 109 higher in
tar balls than in sand and up to 1009 higher than in seawater. Densities of V. vulnificus were higher than 105
colony forming units/g of tar ball in all samples analyzed. Our data suggest that tar balls can act as reservoirs for
bacteria including human pathogens.
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