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Oil and combustion-product contamination of the Gulf marine environment following the war


FOLLOWING the Gulf war, controversy and speculation have surrounded the extent to which the massive spillage of petroleum and the burning of oil wells in Kuwait have damaged marine ecosystems in the region1–5. We report here the results of a rapid assessment survey of hydrocarbon contamination undertaken in the coastal marine environment from Kuwait to Oman during mid-1991. Our results show that severe oil pollution was restricted primarily to the Saudi Arabian coastline within 400 km from the spillages, and that during the four months following the conflict and preceding our survey, the spilled oil had extensively degraded. Surprisingly, concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons in sediments and bivalve molluscs from Bahrain in June 1991 were lower than those recorded from our pre-war (1983–86) surveys at the same site, probably as a result of decreased tanker traffic and associated deballasting during and after the conflict. As for carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced during burning of the oil wells, we found that concentrations in sediments from even the most heavily contaminated sites were relatively low, and comparable to levels reported for the Baltic Sea6, coastal locations of the northeastern United States7 and United Kingdom estuaries8.

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Readman, J., Fowler, S., Villeneuve, JP. et al. Oil and combustion-product contamination of the Gulf marine environment following the war. Nature 358, 662–665 (1992).

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