The Use of Semipermeable Membrane Devices to Concentrate Chemicals in Oil Refinery Effluent on the Mackenzie River


  • Joanne L. Parrott
  • Sean M. Backus
  • Anne I. Borgmann
  • Murray Swyripa



semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs), mixed function oxygenase (MFO), Ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD), oil refinery effluent, Mackenzie River, Norman Wells, cell line, PLHC-1, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)


To concentrate natural and refinery-derived inducers of mixed function oxygenase (MFO), semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs) were deployed for 11-12 days in Norman Wells refinery effluent and upstream and downstream on the Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories, Canada. SPMDs, which are layflat polyethylene membrane tubes containing a thin film of purified triolein, absorb freely dissolved neutral organic chemicals that diffuse through the polyethylene membrane. Fish liver cells (Poeciliopsis lucida hepatoma; PLHC-1) were dosed with SPMD extracts; then MFO activity was determined. SPMDs from the effluent contained potent MFO inducers, equivalent to 4830-8700 pg 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)/g SPMD. SPMDs from the site 0.5 km downstream of the refinery outfall also induced MFO, but downstream extracts were about 1/40 as potent as those from effluent-exposed SPMDs. Comparing sites on the Mackenzie River, extracts of SPMDs from downstream of the refinery outfall were over 20 times as potent as those from upstream SPMDs. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and C1- to C3-substituted PAHs were abundant in extracts of SPMDs from the effluent and, to a lesser degree, in extracts of SPMDs from 0.5 km downstream. In effluent-exposed and downstream SPMDs, concentrations of parent PAHs were lower than those of C1-substituted PAHs. The highest concentrations were those of C2- and C3-substituted PAHs. It is unknown which compounds in the SPMDs caused the MFO induction, but there was a very strong correlation between the concentration of total C3-phenanthrene/anthracene in the SPMD extracts and MFO-induction potency. The study shows both the use of SPMDs as concentrators of neutral organic compounds in harsh environments (such as high temperature effluents and fast-flowing rivers) and the utility and sensitivity of the fish liver cell line for ranking MFO-inducing potencies of environmental SPMD extracts.