Petroleum coke or "petcoke" is a granular carbonaceous material produced during the upgrading of heavy crude oils, including bitumen. Petcoke dust was recently reported as an environmental contaminant in the Athabasca oil sands region, but the ecotoxicological hazards posed by this complex bitumen-derived material - including those to avian species - have not been characterized. In this study, solvent extracts (x) of delayed and fluid petcoke (xDP and xFP) were prepared and dissolved in dimethyl sulfoxide. A water-accommodated fraction of delayed petcoke (waDP) was also prepared. Graded concentrations of xDP, xFP, and waDP were administered to chicken and double-crested cormorant hepatocytes to determine effects on 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity, porphyrin accumulation, and mRNA expression. Polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) were characterized, and xDP, xFP, and waDP had total PAC concentrations of 93 000, 270, and 5.3 ng/mL. The rank order of biochemical and transcriptomic responses was xDP > xFP > waDP (e.g., EROD EC50s were lower for xDP compared to xFP and waDP). A total of 22, 18, and 4 genes were altered following exposure to the highest concentrations of xDP, xFP, and waDP, respectively, using a chicken PCR array comprising 27 AhR-related genes. To provide more exhaustive coverage of potential toxicity pathways being impacted, two avian ToxChip PCR arrays - chicken and double-crested cormorant - were utilized, and xDP altered the expression of more genes than xFP. Traditional PAC-related toxicity pathways and novel mechanisms of action were identified in two avian species following petcoke extract exposure. Extrapolation to real-world exposure scenarios must consider the bioavailability of the extracted PACs compared to those in exposed organisms.

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Journal Environmental Science and Technology
Crump, D. (Doug), Williams, K.L. (Kim L.), Chiu, S. (Suzanne), Zhang, Y. (Yifeng), & Martin, J.W. (Jonathan W.). (2017). Athabasca Oil Sands Petcoke Extract Elicits Biochemical and Transcriptomic Effects in Avian Hepatocytes. Environmental Science and Technology, 51(10), 5783–5792. doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b00767