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Effects of Space Shuttle Exhaust Plumes on Gills of Some Estuarine Fishes: A Light and Electron Microscopic Study

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The first few launches of the space shuttle resulted in fish kills in a lagoon near the launch site. To study this phenomenon further, sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus), sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna), and mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) were exposed to the exhaust plume in buckets placed near the launch site. An open bucket provided a full exposure, a partly closed one provided an intermediate exposure, and a closed one was the control. Three h after launch, the pH of the water from the full exposure had decreased from about 7 to about 3, Al and Fe levels had increased, and some fish had died. Gills ol most fishes from full exposures and some from intermediate exposures were damaged. Gills, however, exhibited no aneurysms, mucus coagulation, or hemorrhaging. Some secondary lamellae swelled, some fused with adjacent lamellae, and others clubbed or retracted into the filament. Many lamellar pavement cells died and sloughed off. Mucous cells of intermediate exposure specimens bulged on the filament surface and pavement cells lost their microridges. Mineral deposits, probably aluminum oxide, occurred on gills of fishes from full exposures. Focally, pavement cells were eroded exposing the underlying structures. The sudden pH drop in the full exposures probably caused the gill damage. However, we could not determine the effect of previous exposure on the experimental fish, or whether gill damage was the lethal lesion. The possibility is indicated that some fish recover after exposure to the exhaust plume.

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