Organic compounds of environmental concern in the Gulf of Mexico: a review

M. C. Kennicutt, J. M. Brooks, E. L. Atlas, C. S. Giam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


An overview of the data available on the distribution of volatile organic compounds (VOC), high molecular weight hydrocarbons (HMWHC) and synthetic organochlorine compounds in sediments, water and organisms from the Gulf of Mexico is presented. VOC contain many environmentally important substances and are widespread contaminants in Gulf of Mexico coastal and nearshore waters. VOC, compounds with volatilities between those of ∼ n-C5 and n-C15, are highest near chemical plants, oil platforms and other industrial or urban centers. VOC detected include aromatics, chlorinated and brominated compounds, and alkanes. VOC concentrations and distributions are controlled initially by the dynamics of local sources but are ultimately determined by exchange with the atmosphere. The major sources of HMWHC in the Gulf of Mexico are biological production, natural seepage, petroleum production, shipping activities, coastal and riverine runoff, and atmospheric exchange and fallout with the dominant sources being very location-dependent. The more pristine areas are offshore from Florida and Southern Texas, whereas the coasts of upper Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama show the highest levels of contamination. The organochlorine compounds most commonly found in organisms are DDT metabolites, PCB and occasionally dieldrin. There is some evidence that estuarine biota contain higher levels of certain residues than pelagic organisms. Organochlorine residues in sediments are believed to originate from contamination by industry or agricultural activities. The highest levels detected to date are associated with Mississippi Delta sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Hydrocarbons, high molecular weight
  • Organochlorine residues
  • Volatile organic compound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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