Federal scientists have determined that extremely low levels of crude oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez caused heart problems in embryonic fish, a conclusion that could shape how damage is assessed in other major spills.

In a study published Tuesday in the online journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that embryonic herring and salmon exposed to low levels of crude oil developed misshapen hearts.

"Metabolically, they're different," said John Incardona, a research toxicologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "They can't grow as well. They can't swim as fast."

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