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SUMMARY 

An investigation of the Yellowstone River Basin was started in 1997 as part of the USGS NAWQA program. One element of the integrated approach used by NAWQA is the determination of the occurrence and distribution of organic compounds and trace elements in fish tissue and bed sediment. During 1998, bed-sediment samples were collected at 24 sites in the study area, and fish-tissue samples were collected at 21 of those sites. 

Organochlorine insecticides were detected in fish tissue at relatively low concentrations. The organic compound most frequently detected in fish was p,p´-DDE, which occurred at 71 percent of the sampling sites. The presence of DDT and its metabolites in fish tissue from sites in Yellowstone Park and nearby areas likely is a result of historical DDT spraying programs for spruce budworm. Brown trout samples collected in conjunction with DDT spraying in the Park during 1957 contained about two orders of magnitude more total DDT than brown trout collected from the same site during 1998. Organochlorine insecticides were not detected in samples from six sites in other parts of the study area. Fish tissue from two sites contained PCBs. None of the concentrations of organochlorine insecticides or PCBs exceeded the guidelines for protection of wildlife that eat fish. The concentrations of insecticides and PCBs generally were low compared to concentrations from other NAWQA studies in the Rocky Mountain area and national level fish-tissue studies. 

Comparison of concentrations for the 27 organochlorine insecticides and metabolites, and total PCBs analyzed in both tissue and bed sediment indicates that more compounds were detected in the fish tissue than the bed sediment. Of the 12 insecticides detected in fish tissue, only trans-chlordane and p,p´-DDT were detected in bed-sediment samples. The higher concentrations and more extensive occurrence of organochlorine insecticides and PCBs in the fish samples probably results from the lipophilic nature of the compounds, chemical partitioning, and bioaccumulation. The data suggest that fish are more sensitive indicators of insecticide and PCB contamination than bed sediment. 

Bed-sediment samples also were analyzed for semivolatile organic compounds (which were not analyzed in fish tissue). About 20 polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were detected in bed-sediment samples from integrator sites in the Billings area and the Goose Creek area near Sheridan; a few PAHs were detected at other sites.

Concentrations of selenium in many of the fish-tissue samples were above background levels. Concentrations of cadmium, chromium, selenium, and several other trace elements were higher in cutthroat trout from a mining indicator site on Soda Butte Creek than two other sites where cutthroat trout were sampled. 

Median concentrations of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead were higher in bed-sediment samples from mineralized areas than non-mineralized areas. Median concentrations of chromium, copper, and lead were highest at sites located in areas of Tertiary and Cretaceous volcanic rocks. The median concentration of arsenic was highest at sites located in Cretaceous sedimentary rocks. Concentrations of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead in some of the bed-sediment samples potentially exceed Canadian criteria for the protection of aquatic life, but generally did not exceed 95th percentile historical concentrations for the YELL.

Fish-tissue and bed-sediment samples collected in coordination with the USGS National Mercury Project indicated concentrations of mercury ranging from 0.743 to 3.45 µg/g dry weight in game fish fillets from five sites. Methyl mercury comprised 1.8 to 11 percent of the total mercury in the bed-sediment samples from the 5 sites.


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