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Massachusetts-Rhode Island Water Science Center

Sediment Quality of Lakes, Rivers, and Estuaries in the Mystic River Basin, Eastern Massachusetts, 2001–03

U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5191

By Robert F. Breault, John L. Durant, and Albert Robbat, Jr.

In cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Tufts University


This report is available as a pdf


Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Tufts University, completed a study of bottom-sediment quality in selected lakes, rivers, and estuaries in the Mystic River Basin, 2001–;;03. More than 100 bottom-sediment grab samples and 8 bottom-sediment cores were collected from the study area that included the Lower Mystic Lake, Mystic River, Alewife Brook, Malden River, Island End River, Chelsea and Mill Creeks, and Boston Inner Harbor. Sediment grab and sediment core samples were tested for the presence of pesticides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls, and trace elements.
Both types of samples were generally enriched in toxic elements, in particular, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, silver, zinc, and PAHs with respect to background concentrations and concentrations measured in sediment from other urban rivers. There were only a few detections of pesticides and no polychlorinated biphenyl detections above detection limits. Locally, concentrations of most trace elements and PAHs were lower in the sediments in the Mystic River Basin than in the lower Charles River, but higher than or equal to concentration in the Neponset River, with the notable exception of arsenic. Some chemicals also are in sufficiently high concentrations in Mystic River sediment to pose a threat to benthic organisms and potentially to cause health risks to humans if they come in contact with the sediment. Increasing concentrations with sediment depth in cores show that the deposition of trace elements and PAHs has substantially declined over the past 50 years or so. However, concentrations of PAHs are generally higher in the top few centimeters of sediment, indicating that sediment contaminant concentrations in the basin remain elevated above background.

Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Background

Purpose and Scope

Previous Studies

Sample Collection Methods and Analysis

Water Depths and Sediment Thickness

Sample-Collection Design

Sample-Collection Techniques

Chemical Analysis

Data-Analysis Methods

Bias and Variability

Water Depths and Sediment Thickness

Results for Sediment Grab Samples

Spatial Trends in Sediment Quality

Effects of Human Activities on Sediment Quality

Comparison to Other Urban Rivers

Results for Sediment Core Samples

Trends in Sediment Quality

Human Activities and Sediment Quality

Toxicity of Contaminated Bottom Sediment

Benthic Organisms

Humans

Summary

References Cited

Figures

1. Map showing the location of the Mystic River Basin, Massachusetts

2. Photographs showing A, tugboat operation; B, shipping; C, typical industry; and D, remedial action on a contaminated waterway in the lower Mystic River, Massachusetts

3, 4. Maps showing:

3. Sediment grab and core sampling locations, Mystic River Basin

4. Altitude of streambed, sediment thickness, or both in the Mystic River Basin: A, Lower Mystic Lake; B, Alewife Brook and its confluence with the upper Mystic River; and C, upper Mystic River and the Malden River above the Amelia Earhart Dam

5—6. Photographs showing:

5. A, U.S. Geological Survey personnel collecting a sediment grab sample; B, sediment collected in the dredge; C, transfer of sediment sample from the dredge into a Teflon bag; and D, a waterlogged sediment sample collected from the lower Mystic River

6. A, Dry ice being placed into freeze corer; B, retrieval of freeze corer; C, removal of excess sediment from corer; and D, sediment-core preservation by wrapping the core in plastic

7. Graph showing population statistics for element and polyaromatic hydrocarbon concentrations measured in grab samples collected from the Mystic River Basin, and other urban rivers (2001–03)

8. Map showing areas dredged as part of the Boston Harbor Navigation Improvement Project, in which the lower Mystic River and Inner Harbor were deepened from 35 feet mean lower low water (MLLW) to about 40 feet MLLW (light blue) and parts of Chelsea Creek from 35 feet MLLW to about 38 feet MLLW (dark blue)

9—16. Graphs showing:

9. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations Mystic Lake, Mystic River Basin

10. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 106, upper Mystic River above Amelia Earhart Dam, Mystic River Basin

11. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 107, Malden River, Mystic River Basin

12. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 108, upper River Basin

13. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 109, upper Mystic River about 90 meters above Amelia Earhart Dam, Mystic River Basin

14. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 110, lower Mystic River about 45 meters below the Amelia Earhart Dam, Mystic River Basin

15. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 111, lower Mystic River about 475 meters below the Amelia Earhart Dam, Mystic River Basin

16. Selected trace element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment core samples collected from site 112, Island End River, Mystic River Basin

17. Map showing estimated sediment toxicity to Hyalella azteca and Chiromonus spp. with respect to consensus-based freshwater sediment quality guidelines

Tables

1. Bottom-sediment sampling sites in the Mystic River Basin, Massachusetts

2. Constituents analyzed in sediment samples from the Mystic River Basin and their common sources and uses

3. Distribution of element and organic compound concentrations measured in sediment grab samples, Mystic River Basin

4. Distribution of element concentrations measured in sediment core samples, Mystic River Basin

5. Distribution of organic com


pound concentrations measured in sediment core samples, Mystic River Basin

Availability

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Suggested Citation:

Breault, R.F., Durant, J.L., and Robbat, Albert, Jr., 2005, Sediment quality of lakes, rivers, and estuaries in the Mystic River Basin, eastern Massachusetts, 2001–03: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5191, 110 p.

For more information about USGS activities in Massachusetts, visit the USGS Massachusetts-Rhode Island Water Science Center home page.


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