A review of the toxicology of oil in vertebrates: what we have learned following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Ryan Takeshita*, Steven J Bursian, Kathleen M Colegrove, Tracy K Collier, Kristina Deak, Karen M Dean, Sylvain De Guise, Lisa M DiPinto, Cornelis J Elferink, Andrew J Esbaugh, Robert J Griffitt, Martin Grosell, Kendal E Harr, John P Incardona, Richard K Kwok, Joshua Lipton, Carys L Mitchelmore, Jeffrey M Morris, Edward S Peters, Aaron P RobertsTeresa K Rowles, Jennifer A Rusiecki, Lori H Schwacke, Cynthia R Smith, Dana L Wetzel, Michael H Ziccardi, Ailsa J Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, a number of government agencies, academic institutions, consultants, and nonprofit organizations conducted lab- and field-based research to understand the toxic effects of the oil. Lab testing was performed with a variety of fish, birds, turtles, and vertebrate cell lines (as well as invertebrates); field biologists conducted observations on fish, birds, turtles, and marine mammals; and epidemiologists carried out observational studies in humans. Eight years after the spill, scientists and resource managers held a workshop to summarize the similarities and differences in the effects of DWH oil on vertebrate taxa and to identify remaining gaps in our understanding of oil toxicity in wildlife and humans, building upon the cross-taxonomic synthesis initiated during the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Across the studies, consistency was found in the types of toxic response observed in the different organisms. Impairment of stress responses and adrenal gland function, cardiotoxicity, immune system dysfunction, disruption of blood cells and their function, effects on locomotion, and oxidative damage were observed across taxa. This consistency suggests conservation in the mechanisms of action and disease pathogenesis. From a toxicological perspective, a logical progression of impacts was noted: from molecular and cellular effects that manifest as organ dysfunction, to systemic effects that compromise fitness, growth, reproductive potential, and survival. From a clinical perspective, adverse health effects from DWH oil spill exposure formed a suite of signs/symptomatic responses that at the highest doses/concentrations resulted in multi-organ system failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-394
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part B, Critical Reviews
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2021


  • Oil toxicity
  • Deepwater Horizon oil spill
  • Wildlife toxicology
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Fish
  • Birds
  • Sea turtles
  • Marine mammals
  • Human health


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