USGS

Trace Elements and Organic Compounds in Streambed Sediment and Fish Tissue of Coastal New England Streams, 1998-99

By Ann Chalmers

U.S.Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 02-4179


Abstract

Streambed sediment and fish tissue were collected at 14 river sites in eastern New England during low-flow conditions in 1998 and 1999 as part of the New England Coastal Basins (NECB) study of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Sampling sites were selected over a range of urban settings. Population densities at selected sites ranged from 26 to 3,585 people per square mile, and urban land use ranged from 1 to 68 percent. The streambed sediment samples were analyzed for a total of 141 contaminants, including 45 trace elements, 32 organochlorine compounds, and 64 semi-volatile organic compounds. The fish tissue samples were analyzed for 22 trace elements and 28 organochlorine compounds. Concentrations of selected contaminants in both streambed sediment and fish tissue correlated more strongly with population density than with other watershed characteristics. Cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, zinc, total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane and metabolites (DDTM), and total chlordane in streambed sediment all showed strong positive correlations with population density (rho = 0.71 to 0.85, p value = 0.005 to <0.001). Correlations between population density and selected contaminants in fish tissue were less significant than with streambed sediment (rho = 0.62 to 0.72, p value = 0.03 to 0.008). Organic carbon concentrations were correlated with concentrations of arsenic, selenium, total PAHs, total PCBs, and DDTM in streambed sediment. The relation between concentrations of contaminants in streambed sediment and fish tissue was stronger for organochlorine compounds (rho = 0.75 to 0.55, p = 0.005 to 0.065) than for trace elements (rho = 0.63 to 0.53, p = 0.029 to 0.069). The NECB study area had the highest median concentrations of lead, mercury, total PAHs, total PCBs, and DDTM in streambed sediment and the highest median concentration of PCBs in fish tissue compared to 45 other NAWQA study units across the Nation. Concentrations of many of these constituents in streambed sediment also were frequently above the consensus-based Sediment-Quality Guidelines for the protection of wildlife, suggesting they are a threat to the health of aquatic biota in New England.

Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area

Study Design

Acknowledgments

Methods of Sample Collection and Analysis

Methods of Data Analysis

Trace Elements in Streambed Sediment and Fish Tissue

Comparisons with Other Studies and Guidelines

Relations to Watershed Characteristics

Relations Between Trace Elements in Streambed Sediment and Fish Tissue

Organic Compounds in Streambed Sediment and Fish Tissue

Comparisons with Other Studies and Guidelines

Relations to Watershed Characteristics

Relations Between Organic Compounds in Streambed Sediment and Fish Tissue

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendixes 1-3.

  1A. Trace Element Concentrations in Streambed Sediment, New England Coastal Basins
  1B. Trace Element Concentrations in Fish Fillets
  2A. Organochlorine Compound Concentrations in Streambed Sediment
  2B. Organochlorine Compound Concentrations in Whole Fish Tissue
  3. Semivolatile Compound Concentrations in Streambed Sediment

FIGURES

1-2. Maps showing:
  1. Location of streambed sediment and fish tissue (BST) sampling sites and population distribution in the New England Coastal Basins study area
  2. Location and population density of National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) study units in the Nation, 1991-97
3-4. Graphs showing concentrations of:
  3. Trace elements in streambed sediment, New England Coastal Basins
  4. Organic compounds in streambed sediment and fish tissue

TABLES

  1. Characterization of streambed sediment and fish-tissue sampling sites, New England Coastal Basins
  2. Guidelines for trace elements and organic compounds in bulk sediment and fish tissues
  3. Median concentrations of selected trace elements and organic carbon in streambed sediment from 46 National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) study units
  4. Summary of statistical analysis between selected trace elements and organic compounds in streambed sediment and fish tissue in relation to selected watershed characteristics and organic carbon, New England Coastal Basins
  5. Summary of statistical analysis between selected trace elements and organic compounds in streambed sediment in relation to fish tissue
  6. Median concentrations of selected organic compounds in streambed sediment from 46 National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) study units
  7. Median concentrations of selected organic compounds in fish tissue from 39 National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) study units
CONVERSION FACTORS AND ABBREVIATED WATER-QUALITY UNITS
Multiply By To obtain
Length
inch (in.) 2 .54 centimeter (cm)
inch 25 .4 millimeter (mm)
inch 25380 .7 micrometer ( μ m)
Area
acre   .405 hectare (ha)
square miles (mi2 ) 2 .59 square kilometer (km2)
Weight
ounce (oz) 28 .35 gram (g)
pound (lb) 0 .454 kilogram (kg)
Volume
ounce (oz) 29 .6 milliliter (mL)

ABBREVIATED WATER-QUALITY UNITS

µg/g microgram per gram
µg/kg microgram per kilogram
g/kg grams per kilogram

MISCELLANEOUS ABBREVIATIONS

DDD Dichloro diphenyl dichloroethane
DDE Dichloro diphenyl dichloroethylene
DDT Dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane
DDTM DDT and its major metabolites (DDD and DDE)
NAS/NAE National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering
NAWQA National Water-Quality Assessment
NECB New England Coastal Basins
NQWL National Water-Quality Laboratory
PAH Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
PCB Polychlorinated biphenyl
PEL Probable effects level
SQG Consensus-based Sediment Quality Guidelines

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