Queen's University

Fish toxicology lab studying oil spill tar balls


Researchers at Queen's University are working on a method to determine the rate at which chemicals are being released from the tar balls caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Little is known about the environmental impact of the tar balls that are floating in the water and washing up on shore.

“The impact of tar balls, apart from tar stains on swimmer's feet, is currently not well characterized,” says Environmental Studies and Biology professor Peter Hodson. “The nature of chemicals toxic to marine life, and the rate at which they might be released from tar balls, has not been measured, so the risk of toxicity is unknown.”

The tar balls were collected from beaches in Florida and Alabama in July.

After more than 100 days, British Petroleum is close to finally stopping the oil spill. But Professor Hodson expects that the amount of oil and tar balls remaining in the Gulf will be significant.

Tar balls are masses of oil mixed with water, organic matter, or sediment. They may be buoyant and distributed by currents, or heavy and sitting on the bottom. The older they are, the more their exterior looks like tar or wax, although the interior may still contain liquid oil.

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Last updated at 3:38 pm EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
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