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 (PubMed)

“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 10× higher in tar balls than in sand and up to 100× higher than in seawater. Densities of V. vulnificus were higher than 10(5) 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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