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Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5191

Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, Division of Ecological Restoration

Estimated Sediment Thickness, Quality, and Toxicity to Benthic Organisms in Selected Impoundments in Massachusetts

By Robert F. Breault, Jason R. Sorenson, and Peter K. Weiskel

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.71 MB)Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, Division of Ecological Restoration, collaborated to collect baseline information on the quantity and quality of sediment impounded behind selected dams in Massachusetts, including sediment thickness and the occurrence of contaminants potentially toxic to benthic organisms. The thicknesses of impounded sediments were measured, and cores of sediment were collected from 32 impoundments in 2004 and 2005. Cores were chemically analyzed, and concentrations of 32 inorganic elements and 108 organic compounds were quantified. Sediment thicknesses varied considerably among the 32 impoundments, with an average thickness of 3.7 feet. Estimated volumes also varied greatly, ranging from 100,000 cubic feet to 81 million cubic feet. Concentrations of toxic contaminants as well as the number of contaminants detected above analytical quantification levels (also known as laboratory reporting levels) varied greatly among sampling locations. Based on measured contaminant concentrations and comparison to published screening thresholds, bottom sediments were predicted to be toxic to bottom-dwelling (benthic) organisms in slightly under 30 percent of the impoundments sampled. Statistically significant relations were found between several of the contaminants and individual indicators of urban land use and industrial activity in the upstream drainage areas of the impoundments. However, models developed to estimate contaminant concentrations at unsampled sites from upstream landscape characteristics had low predictive power, consistent with the long and complex land-use history that is typical of many drainage areas in Massachusetts.

First posted January 11, 2013

For additional information contact:
Office Chief
U.S. Geological Survey
New England Water Science Center
Massachusetts-Rhode Island Office
10 Bearfoot Road
Northborough, MA 01532
(508) 490-5000

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Suggested citation:

Breault, R.F., Sorenson, J.R., and Weiskel, P.K., 2013, Estimated sediment thickness, quality, and toxicity to benthic organisms in selected impoundments in Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5191, 42 p. (Also available at




Field, Laboratory, and Statistical Methods

Sediment Thickness, Chemical Quality, and Estimated Toxicity

Relations Among Contaminant Concentrations, Land Use, and Industrial History


References Cited

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Page Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013, 09:29:24 AM