Lethal and Sublethal Toxicity of Drilling Fluids to Larvae of the American Lobster, Homarus americanus Academic Article uri icon


  • The lethal and sublethal effects of five used, whole drilling fluids on the larval stages of the American lobster (Homarus americanus) were assessed in laboratory experiments using a continuous-flow bioassay. Although the five tested drilling fluids varied markedly in their toxicity, some were highly toxic, with LC50 values as low as 74?mg/L. Sublethal exposures to drilling fluids at concentrations as low as 10–50?mg/L resulted in reduced respiration rates, reduced O:N ratios, and increased protein:lipid ratios, demonstrating a change in energetics of the larval lobsters. Growth and development of the larvae were seriously impaired by exposure to three of the five drilling fluids at concentrations of 50 and 100?mg/L. The feeding rates were also significantly reduced after a 24-h exposure to 50?mg/L drilling fluid. Exposure of larvae to barite (a major component of drilling fluids) and to a field-collected, fine-grained sediment did not result in deleterious effects. We suggest that the chemical components and not the physical properties of the drilling fluids are primarily responsible for detrimental effects. From results of the chemical analyses of the tested drilling fluids, we consider that the adverse effects of these drilling fluids cannot be attributed to any one group of chemicals. For example, diesel oil, a known toxicant, was present in the more toxic drilling fluids; however, there was no direct correlation between the toxicity of a drilling fluid and diesel oil concentration. Phenolic compounds, various metals, and other components probably also contributed to the toxicity of these drilling fluids.

publication date

  • September 1, 1984