A study published Thursday in the journal Science has found that crude oil can cause cardiac arrest in fish. According to International Business Times, the study was conducted on the tuna population and found that the chemicals found in oil can slow heart rate, cause irregular heartbeats and reduces cardiac contractility.
As part of the study, researchers exposed the cells of healthy fish to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—which are found in oil—to simulate the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as others.
Professor of marine sciences at Stanford University Barbara Block stated the research shows that oil blocked processes in cardiac cells that are essential to the heart’s function.
Previously, PAH was known to have cancer-causing effects, but now it is revealed that it is also specifically cardiotoxic.
Co-author Nathaniel Scholz remarked that fish affected with higher concentrations will likely die because the heart muscles cannot do their job or they become deformed. He elaborated, “As for exposure to lower concentrations, these fish will survive in clean water. But when we look at them later in life, we find they have changes in the shapes of their hearts, with corresponding impacts on their ability to swim.”
The LA Times notes that BP has already taken issue with the study and its implications for BP. A spokesman stated, “Bathing isolated heart cells with oil concentrations is simply not comparable to the real-world conditions and exposures that existed in the gulf for whole fish.”
According to Block, these studies should now be extended to mammals and humans as the signaling pathways are similar to those of tuna.