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Sediment Quality and Polychlorinated Biphenyls in the Lower Neponset River, Massachusetts, and Implications for Urban River Restoration

By Robert F. Breault, Matthew G. Cooke, and Michael Merrill

Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5109

ABSTRACT

Efforts to restore fish passage, habitat, and recreational use of the Neponset River, a tributary to Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, have raised concerns about the sediment, water, and biota quality of the river. Consequently, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Department of Fish and Game Riverways Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, studied sediment and water quality, with a specific focus on polychlorinated biphenyls, in the Neponset River.

Sediment samples were collected throughout the Neponset River and tested for elements and organic compounds including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, organochlorine pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls. Although enriched compared to background concentrations, sediment quality in the Neponset River was generally better than that of other urban rivers in the United States, except with respect to one constituent, polychlorinated biphenyls. Concentrations of lead, some polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and polychlorinated biphenyls in the sediment may be toxic to aquatic organisms and may pose a risk to human health. The sediment quality also fails to meet the minimum requirements set by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for lined landfill disposal.

The locations of the source(s) of polychlorinated biphenyls to the Neponset River were determined by means of congener analysis from PISCES passive water-column samplers. The PISCES data indicate a sharp increase in polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations and a substantial shift in congener pattern downstream of one PISCES sampling location near Fairmont Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts. This result indicates that the area upstream of this sampling location may be the location of a historical source of polychlorinated biphenyls to the Neponset River. The present (2003) source to the water column may likely be PCB contaminated sediment.

CONTENTS

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Study Methods

Water Depths and Sediment Thickness

Sample-Collection Design

Sample-Collection Techniques

Chemical Analysis

Data-Analysis Methods

Bias and Variability

Data Representativeness

Sediment Quality and Implications for River Restoration

Concentrations of Elements Compared to Background Concentrations

Organic Compounds

Comparison of Sediment Chemistry in the Lower Neponset River to that in

Other Urban Rivers

Contaminated Bottom-Sediment Toxicity

Benthic Organisms

Humans

Comparison between Upstream and Downstream Sediment Chemistry

Implications of Sediment Contamination for Waste Disposal

Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Water, Sediment, and Fish

Polychlorinated Biphenyl Source Identification

Polychlorinated Biphenyl Toxicity

Aquatic-Life Criteria

Human Health

Summary

Acknowledgments

References Cited

FIGURES

1. Map showing the study area, sediment-grab and sediment-core sampling locations, and the locations where PISCES polychlorinated biphenyl passive samplers were deployed, lower Neponset River, Massachusetts

2, 3. Photographs showing:

2. Walter Baker impoundment, lower Neponset River

3. Tileston and Hollingsworth Dam and impoundment, lower Neponset River

4. Schematic of a typical polychlorinated biphenyl : A, more substituted; and B, less substituted

5. Photograph showing former Jenkins Dam impoundment, known as the braided channel, lower Neponset River

6–8. Maps showing:

6. Water depths and sediment thickness measured in the Walter Baker impoundment, lower Neponset River

7. Water depths and sediment thickness measured in the Tileston and Hollingsworth impoundment, lower Neponset River

8. Sediment thickness measured in the braided channel, lower Neponset River

9. Sediment-core log showing visual interpretation of sediment type and length of sediment cores collected from the lower Neponset River

10–12. Graphs showing:

10. Concentrations of A, elements; and B, organic compounds (by type) measured in grab and core samples collected from the lower Neponset River

11. Population statistics for element and organic compound concentrations measured in grab samples collected from the lower Neponset River in comparison to other urban rivers in the United States

12. Relative amount of enrichment of elements and organic compounds from three urban rivers tributary to Boston Harbor—the lower Neponset River, the upper Mystic River, and the lower Charles River

13. Bar chart showing estimated sediment toxicity to Hyalella azteca and Chironomus spp. with respect to consensus-based freshwater sediment-quality guidelines from samples collected from the lower Neponset River

14–16. Graphs showing:

14. Comparison of concentrations of selected A, elements; and B, organic compounds in sediment collected from the lower Neponset River with human-health guidelines for direct contact with and incident ingestion of contaminated soils

15. Sediment-type summary statistics for grab and core samples collected from the lower Neponset River

16. Comparison of elements and organic compound concentrations in sediment collected from the lower Neponset River with Commonwealth of Massachusetts guidelines for the reuse and disposal of contaminated soil

17. Bar chart showing polychlorinated biphenyl congener patterns of commercially available Aroclors by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry number (IUPAC)

18. Graph showing differences in polychlorinated biphenyl congener patterns between duplicate samples collected from the lower Neponset River

19–24. Bar charts showing:

19. Polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations and between-station root mean square differences of congener patterns measured in PISCES passive samplers, Mother Brook and the Neponset River

20. Average relative polychlorinated biphenyl congener concentrations in selected PISCES samples collected from the lower Neponset River by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) number

21. Average relative polychlorinated biphenyl congener concentrations in selected grab samples collected from the lower Neponset River by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) number

22. Average relative polychlorinated biphenyl congener concentrations in selected core samples collected from the lower Neponset River by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) number

23. Estimated water-column concentrations of total polychlorinated biphenyls (ΣPCBs) collected from the lower Neponset River in comparison to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency freshwater continuous chronic criteria for ΣPCBs

24. Toxic equivalency of total polychlorinated biphenyls relative to 2,3,7,8- tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) collected from the lower Neponset River

TABLES

1. Sediment-grab and sediment-core sampling locations and time of sampling, from the Walter Baker impoundment, Tileston–Hollingsworth impoundment, and braided channel, lower Neponset River, Massachusetts

2. Laboratories and analytical methods used in this study

3. Location and details of polychlorinated biphenyl sampling by means of PISCES passive samplers, lower Neponset River

4. Common sources and (or) uses of selected constituents typically found in rivers that drain urban and industrial areas

5. Estimated number of samples needed to calculate average concentrations within a 25-percent range of acceptable error for elements, and within a 50-percent range of acceptable error for organic compounds, with 90-percent confidence for the lower Neponset River

6. Median background concentrations of elements measured in sand, silt, and clay samples collected from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island as part of the National Uranium Resource Evaluation Hydrogeochemical and Stream Sediment Reconnaissance Program

7. Measured total polychlorinated biphenyl (ΣPCB) concentrations, by congener analysis in PISCES samplers, estimated ΣPCB water-column concentrations, and estimated ΣPCB concentrations in fish tissue, lower Neponset River

8. Total polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations by congener analysis in selected grab and core samples, lower Neponset River

 


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

Breault, R.F., Cooke, M.G., and Merrill, Michael, 2004, Sediment quality and polychlorinated biphenyls in the lower Neponset River, Massachusetts, and implications for urban river restoration: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5109, 48 p.


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




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