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Sediment Quantity and Quality in Three Impoundments in Massachusetts

Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4013

By Marc J. Zimmerman and Robert F. Breault


As part of a study with an overriding goal of providing information that would assist State and Federal agencies in developing screening protocols for managing sediments impounded behind dams that are potential candidates for removal, the U.S Geological Survey determined sediment quantity and quality at three locations: one on the French River and two on Yokum Brook, a tributary to the west branch of the Westfield River. Data collected with a global positioning system, a geographic information system, and sediment-thickness data aided in the creation of sediment maps and the calculation of sediment volumes at Perryville Pond on the French River in Webster, Massachusetts, and at the Silk Mill and Ballou Dams on Yokum Brook in Becket, Massachusetts. From these data the following sediment volumes were determined: Perryville Pond, 71,000 cubic yards, Silk Mill, 1,600 cubic yards, and Ballou, 800 cubic yards. Sediment characteristics were assessed in terms of grain size and concentrations of potentially hazardous organic compounds and metals.

Assessment of the approaches and methods used at study sites indicated that ground-penetrating radar produced data that were extremely difficult and time-consuming to interpret for the three study sites. Because of these difficulties, a steel probe was ultimately used to determine sediment depth and extent for inclusion in the sediment maps. Use of these methods showed that, where sampling sites were accessible, a machine-driven coring device would be preferable to the physically exhausting, manual sediment-coring methods used in this investigation. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays were an effective tool for screening large numbers of samples for a range of organic contaminant compounds. An example calculation of the number of samples needed to characterize mean concentrations of contaminants indicated that the number of samples collected for most analytes was adequate; however, additional analyses for lead, copper, silver, arsenic, total petroleum hydrocarbons, and chlordane are needed to meet the criteria determined from the calculations.

Particle-size analysis did not reveal a clear spatial distribution pattern at Perryville Pond. On average, less than 65 percent of each sample was greater in size than very fine sand. The sample with the highest percentage of clay-sized particles (24.3 percent) was collected just upstream from the dam and generally had the highest concentrations of contaminants determined here. In contrast, more than 90 percent of the sediment samples in the Becket impoundments had grain sizes larger than very fine sand; as determined by direct observation, rocks, cobbles, and boulders constituted a substantial amount of the material impounded at Becket. In general, the highest percentages of the finest particles, clays, occurred in association with the highest concentrations of contaminants.

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays of the Perryville samples showed the widespread presence of petroleum hydrocarbons (16 out of 26 samples), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (23 out of 26 samples), and chlordane (18 out of 26 samples); polychlorinated biphenyls were detected in five samples from four locations. Neither petroleum hydrocarbons nor polychlorinated biphenyls were detected at Becket, and chlordane was detected in only one sample. All 14 Becket samples contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Replicate quality-control analyses revealed consistent results between paired samples.

Samples from throughout Perryville Pond contained a number of metals at potentially toxic concentrations. These metals included arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. At Becket, no metals were found in elevated concentrations.

In general, most of the concentrations of organic compounds and metals detected in Perryville Pond exceeded standards for benthic organisms, but only rarely exceeded standards for human contact. The most highly contaminated samples were collected from sites at the upstream and downstream ends of Perryville Pond.

To estimate the potential toxicity of the sediment samples to invertebrates on the basis of their concentrations of metals and organic contaminants, consensus-based sediment-toxicity guidelines were applied. The results of the calculations based on these guidelines highlighted the locations of potentially toxic contaminant "hot spots" in Perryville Pond. Interpretation of sample data from the Becket impoundments did not indicate the existence of similar pockets of potentially toxic contamination.




Previous Studies and Historical Information

Purpose and Scope


Methods of Assessment and Analysis

Bathymetric Mapping

Sediment Mapping

Sediment-Sample Collection

Data Representativeness and Number of Samples

Collecting and Processing Samples

Laboratory Analyses

Potential for Adverse Biological Effects

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Analytical Results for Perryville

Bathymetric Mapping

Sediment Volume and Thickness

Sediment Cores

Particle-Size Analysis

Chemical Analyses

Organic Compounds

Trace Metals

Analytical Results for Silk Mill and Ballou

Bathymetric Mapping

Sediment Volume and Coring

Particle-Size Distribution

Chemical Analyses

Application of Guidelines for Assessing Sediment Chemistry

Number of Samples Analyzed

Contaminant Concentrations and Exceedance Guidelines

Contaminants and Their Potential Toxicity

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix: Complete Listing of Elemental Analyses Performed by XRAL Laboratories, Inc.


Figure 1. Map showing locations of the Perryville Dam on the French River in Webster, Massachusetts, and the Silk Mill and Ballou Dams on Yokum Brook in Becket, Massachusetts

Figure 2. Photograph of Perryville Dam, Webster

Figure 3. Photograph of Silk Mill Dam, Becket

Figure 4. Photograph of Ballou Dam, Becket

Figure 5. Photograph showing ground-penetrating radar being used to collect field data

Figure 6. Photograph of examination of a sediment core collected with a Livingstone corer from Perryville Pond in Webster

Figure 7. Photograph of centrally located island formed by sediment deposits and covered withpurple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) in Perryville Pond in Webster 9

Figure 8. Graph showing sediment-core lengths, depths below sediment surface, and sample-section identifiers

Figure 9. Map showing bathymetric and bottom-sediment thickness map of Perryville Pond in Webster

Figure 10. Map showing bathymetric and bottom-sediment thickness map of Silk Mill impoundment, Becket 22

Figure 11. Map showing bathymetric and bottom-sediment thickness map of Ballou impoundment, Becket 23


Table 1. Comparison of families of compounds that may be detected by the ELISA method used in this study in the U.S. Geological Survey Massachusetts–Rhode Island District laboratory and other methods used by Columbia Analytical Services, Inc., laboratory

Table 2. Comparison of quality-control replicate samples analyzed by the ELISA method for organic compounds

Table 3. Comparison of ELISA results with duplicate quality-control sample results from Columbia Analytical Sevices, Inc.

Table 4. Comparison of concentrations of selected metals in duplicate quality-control samples analyzed by XRAL Laboratories, Inc.

Table 5. U.S. Geological Survey sample identifiers and shortened identifiers for maps used in this study

Table 6. Sediment particle-size distribution for samples collected from Perryville Pond, Webster, and from Silk Mill and Ballou impoundments, Becket, Massachusetts, July 2000

Table 7. Results of ELISA analyses of organic sediment constituents in samples collected from Perryville Pond and from Silk Mill and Ballou impoundments

Table 8. Selected constituent concentrations in sediment samples from vegetated and open-water zones of Perryville Pond, 1984

Table 9. Concentrations of selected metals analyzed by XRAL Laboratories

Table 10. Number of samples needed to define the mean concentrations of analytes within 25 percent and with 90 percent confidence for Perryville Pond and the two Becket impoundments (Silk Mill and Ballou combined)

Table 11. Sediment-quality guidelines for freshwater benthic organisms and human-contact data

Table 12. Incidence of toxicity based on Probable Effect Concentration (PEC) quotients in samples from Perryville Pond, Silk Mill and Ballou impoundments


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The citation for this report, in USGS format, is as follows:

Zimmerman, M.J. and Breault, R.F., 2003, Sediment Quantity and Quality in Three Impoundments in Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4017, 36 pages.

 For more information about USGS activities in Massachusetts-Rhode Island District, visit the USGS Massachusetts-Rhode Island Home Page.

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