USGS

National Water-Quality Assessment Program

Puget Sound Basin NAWQA Study -- Publications
USGS Fact Sheet 105-98
September 1998

Organic Compounds and Trace Elements in Freshwater Streambed Sediment and Fish from the Puget Sound Basin

by Dorene E. MacCoy and Robert W. Black

As part of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program, the USGS is investigating contaminants in streambed sediment and aquatic organisms and their relation to land use. One such study is being done in the Puget Sound Basin, which is located in northwestern Washington State and includes streams and rivers that drain to the Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but does not include marine waters. The basin encompasses 13,700 square miles; forest, urban, and agriculture are the principal land uses.

Summary of findings

Organochlorine compounds - Highest concentrations of organochlorine compounds in streambed sediment were at an urban site on Thornton Creek near Seattle, where total chlordane, DDT, DDD, and DDE were found to exceed Canadian sediment quality guidelines. Concentrations are compared to Canadian guidelines because there are no sediment quality guidelines in the State of Washington.

Highest concentrations of organochlorine compounds in sculpin (a bottom-feeding fish) were found at the Thornton Creek site. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and total DDT (DDT+DDD +DDE) exceeded New York State criteria for protection of fish-eating wildlife at Thornton Creek, and total PCB's exceeded these criteria at the West Branch Kelsey Creek at Bellevue, another urban site. Concentrations are compared to New York State criteria because there are no criteria for protection of fish-eating wildlife in the State of Washington.

Effects - Elevated levels of organochlorine compounds such as DDT and PCBs are toxic to all animals and can bioconcentrate in tissue, cause tumors, and cause hormonal and behavioral problems. They can also suppress the immune and respiratory systems and cause abnormal development in aquatic species. The primary effect on aquatic communities is to reduce numbers of sensitive species, allowing species that are more resistant to contaminants to become dominant (Harte and others, 1991).

PAHs - Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations in streambed sediment exceeded Canadian guidelines in most urban streams and were highest at the West Branch Kelsey Creek at Bellevue.

Effects - Many PAHs, such as benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, and chrysene, are carcinogenic, causing tumors in fish and other animals, and are acutely toxic to some organisms. Noncarcinogenic PAHs, such as fluoranthene, phenathrene, and pyrene, are also toxic to some organisms. The effects on aquatic organisms of the PAHs found in sediment at Kelsey Creek are unknown, but concentrations of benzo(a)pyrene as high as those observed in this study can cause precancerous tumors in fish (Eisler, 1987).

Trace elements - Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc frequently exceeded forest and reference conditions in streambed sediment and sculpin in urban streams.

Effects - Elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc may not be of concern in a naturally metal-rich region such as Puget Sound because the aquatic system has adapted to this type of environment, but excessive amounts of these elements can affect the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, and reproductive systems of aquatic organisms, as well as affect their development and feeding habits (Rand and Petrocelli, 1985).

Photo(248,883 bytes)
Urban stream

Data collection and analysis

Streambed sediment and whole sculpin tissue were analyzed to assess the occurrence and distribution of contaminants and to better understand the fate of contaminants in the environment (table 1). We collected samples in September 1995 from 18 sites, which were characterized on the basis of the predominant land use in the stream's basin - 4 agricultural sites, 9 urban sites, 2 forest sites, and 3 reference sites, which are mostly forested and receive minimal impact from humans. At each site we collected the top 2-3 centimeters of streambed sediment in depositional areas; predatory bottom-feeding fish (sculpin) were collected from 17 of these sites. (See Crawford and Luoma, 1994, and Shelton and Capel, 1994, for a more complete description of the methods used.)

Table 1. Contaminants analyzed for in streambed sediment and whole sculpin
tissue from the Puget Sound Basin.

Contaminant
Sediment1
Tissue
Organochlorine
compounds
31 pesticides;
total PCBs
26 pesticides;
total PCBs
Other organic
compounds
64
not analyzed2
Trace elements
44
22
1Finer than 2.0 millimeters for organic compounds, finer than 63.0 micrometers for trace elements.
2Tissue analysis too costly for this study.

Fine-grained sediment and tissue accumulate trace elements and organic compounds associated with anthropogenic (human-related) activities. Sculpin are bottom-feeding fish that are not usually consumed by humans but are eaten by other fish and fish-eating wildlife. Organic compounds analyzed for were organochlorine pesticides, total PCBs, and other organic compounds (of the other organic compounds, only PAH values that exceeded Canadian guidelines are reported because they may have the most potential to harm aquatic and related organisms).

Evaluation of data

We compared our data to guidelines and criteria for organic compounds to show possible adverse effects to aquatic organisms and fish-eating wildlife, and to local forest and reference conditions for selected trace elements to show possibleeffects of land use (fig. 1).

Organic compounds - We compared levels of organochlorine compounds and PAHs detected in sediment to draft interim freshwater sediment quality guidelines developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). These guidelines were developed from toxicity and species abundance data for benthic organisms from studies throughout North America and represent total concentrations in sieved and unsieved sediment samples (CCME, 1995). The guidelines used are the threshold effects level (TEL), below which adverse effects to aquatic organisms are expected to occur rarely, and the probable effects level (PEL), above which adverse effects are predicted to occur frequently. Concentrations that exceed these guidelines may or may not have adverse effects on aquatic organisms; the comparisons should be used to indicate potential sediment quality problems that may warrant further study.

We compared concentrations of organochlorine compounds in sculpin to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) criteria (Newell and others, 1987). These criteria were determined from laboratory experiments using fish-eating wildlife and are considered one of the best sets of criteria for evaluating the effects of contaminated fish tissue on wildlife.

Trace elements -We compared concentrations of selected trace elements in streambed sediment and sculpin tissue to median concentrations from the forest and reference sites. Land-use impacts may cause concentrations from the agricultural and urban sites to exceed these medians.

Photo (284,781 bytes)

Agricultural stream


Figure 1. Puget Sound Basin

Map(29,262 bytes)

Figure 1 table.
Organic compounds that exceed Canadian probable effects levels (PEL) and New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)criteria, and trace elements that exceed
median of forest and reference conditions at sampling sites in the Puget Sound Basin.
Site
Sediment
Tissue
Bertrand Creek
near Lynden
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
nickel, zinc
zinc
Nooksack River
at Brennan
chromium, nickel, zinc
arsenic, chromium, lead,
mercury, nickel, zinc
Thornton Creek
near Seattle
arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead,
mercury, nickel, zinc, DDT
arsenic, lead, mercury,
PCBs
Duwamish River
at golf course at Tukwila
arsenic, cadmium, lead,
zinc
arsenic, mercury
Springbrook Creek
at Tukwila
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, mercury, nickel, zinc
no tissue sampled
Miller Creek
near Des Moines
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, mercury, nickel, zinc
arsenic, lead, mercury
North Fork Skokomish River
at Staircase Rapids
arsenic, chromium, nickel,
zinc
arsenic
Leach Creek
near Steilacoom
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, nickel, zinc
arsenic, zinc
Big Soos Creek
above hatchery near Auburn
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, nickel
-
Fishtrap Creek
at Flynn Road
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, nickel, zinc
arsenic, mercury
Nooksack River
at North Cedarville
nickel
-
North Creek
below Penny Creek near Bothell
arsenic, cadmium,chromium, lead
mercury, nickel, zinc
arsenic, mercury
Juanita Creek
at La Juanita
arsenic, cadmium, chromium,
lead, nickel, zinc
arsenic, cadmium,lead,
mercury
West Branch Kelsey Creek
at Bellevue
arsenic, cadmium,chromium, lead,
mercury, nickel, zinc, PAHs
arsenic, cadmium, lead,
mercury, zinc, PCBs
Rock Creek
at Cedar Falls near Landsburg
arsenic, cadmium
chromium, nickel, zinc
Rock Creek
near Maple Valley
cadmium, lead, zinc
mercury
Green River
above Twim Camp
mercury
arsenic, nickel, zinc
Newaukum Creek
near Black Diamond
cadmium, lead, zinc
-

Organic compounds detected in streambed sediment

Organochlorine pesticides were detected at 3 of the 18 sites sampled for streambed sediment: an agricultural site on Fishtrap Creek in the northern part of the basin, an urban site on Thornton Creek near Seattle, and a reference site on Rock Creek near Maple Valley. The highest concentrations were found at the urban site on Thornton Creek (fig. 2).

PAHs were most frequently detected in streambed sediment samples from urban streams. The highest concentrations were found in the sample taken fromWest Branch Kelsey Creek at Bellevue (table 2).

Graph:Concentrations of organochlorine pesticides in streambed sediment(21,880 Bytes)
Figure 2

Figure 2. Concentrations of organochlorine pesticides in streambed sediment from selected sites in the Puget Sound Basin compared to Canadian criteria.(TEL, threshold effects level; PEL, probable effects level)
1No published Canadian data for HCB

Table 2. Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in streambed sediment that exceed Canadian guidelines [values in micrograms per kilogram, dry weight; nd, not detected or below 50 micrograms per kilogram method detection limit; bold, above TEL; red, above PEL]

Site Name
Benzo(a)anthracene1
Benzo(a)pyrene2
Chrysene1
Fluoranthene3
Phenanthrene3
Pyrene3
Fishtrap Creek
54
53
50
91
nd
87
Duwamish River
52
nd
56
91
nd
79
Springbrook Creek
370
450
520
890
370
770
Juanita Creek
76
73
83
150
78
120
West Branch Kelsey Creek
680
1700
950
2800
850
2300
Leach Creek
57
62
65
100
51
94
Miller Creek
100
120
130
230
120
200
North Creek
nd
nd
nd
61
nd
56
Thornton Creek
220
310
270
470
200
410
Rock Creek near Maple Valley
270
nd
200
320
150
240
Rock Creek at Cedar Falls
50
54
63
nd
160
nd
1Weakly carcinogenic (Eisler, 1987)
2Strongly carcinogenic
3Noncarcinogenic
Definitions of organic compounds found in the Puget Sound Basin
DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is an organochlorine insecticide banned from use in the U.S. in 1972. Total DDT refers to the sum of DDT and its breakdown products DDE and DDD.

Chlordane is an organochlorine insecticide banned from use in the 1980's. Total chlordane refers to the sum of cis-chlordane, trans-chlordane, cis-nonachlor and trans-nonachlor.

HCB (hexachlorobenzene) is a fungicide used as a seed and soil treatment, restricted from use in the 1980's.

Dieldrin is an organochlorine insecticide with restricted use in the U.S. since the1970's.

Heptachlor epoxide is a breakdown product of the organochlorine insecticide heptachlor. It was used in the U.S. until the1970's.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are by-products of a variety of industrial products. Manufacture was stopped in the 1970's. There are over 209 breakdown products of PCBs, and total PCB refers to the sum of all forms detected.

PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are natural by-products of forest fires. Other sources include the steel and petroleum industry, the manufacture of coal tar and asphalt, power generation, burning trash, and vehicle emisions. Tons are emitted to the atmosphere and introduced to aquatic environmentsthrough oil spills and sewage discharge.

Organochlorine compounds detected in tissue

Total PCBs and/or at least 1 of 26 organochlorine pesticides were detected in tissue at 2 agricultural and 6 urban sites. The highest concentrations and greatest ranges of organochlorine compounds were detected at the Thornton Creek site (fig. 3).

Chart: Organochlorine Compounds in whole sculpin tissue(16, 750 Bytes)
Figure 3

Figure 3.Organochlorine compounds in whole sculpin tissue from selected creeks in the Puget Sound Basin compared to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) criteria.

Trace elements detected in streambed sediment and whole sculpin tissue

Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and zinc were elevated in streambed sediment and sculpin from agricultural and urban sites compared to concentrations from the forest and reference sites. Arsenic and the heavy metals cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc had the highest concentrations and the greatest range of concentrations at urban sites compared to those from the agricultural and the combined forest and reference sites, indicatingpossible enrichment of these elements in the urban areas (fig. 4). The concentrations detected do not necessarily have negative impacts on the environment, but do suggest that land use may have led to increased levels of these elements.

Chart:Concentrations of selected trace elements in sediment and sculpin(17,284 Bytes)
Figure 4

Figure 4. Concentrations of selected trace elements detected in streambed sediment and whole sculpin tissue collected in the Puget Sound Basin compared to the median of forest and reference site data.(n, number of samples; +1 replicate, one replicate sample data included; <, less than)

Photo (41,926 Bytes)

Forest stream


For data used in the development of this fact sheet or for information on the Puget Sound Basin NAWQA, contact:
Project Chief
Puget Sound Basin NAWQA
1201 Pacific Ave., Suite 600
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 428-3600
email: nawqa_pugt_wa@usgs.gov
World Wide Web:http://wa.water.usgs.gov/ps.nawqa.html

picture

Riffle sculpin, Cottus gulosus
cjdean

Editing: Martha Erwin
Photographs: Robert Black

References Cited

CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment), 1995, Protocol for the derivation of Canadian sediment quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life: Winnipeg, Manitoba, report CCME EPC-98E, Task Group on Water Quality Guidelines, 38 p.

Crawford, J. Kent, and Luoma, Samuel N., 1994, Guidelines for studies of contaminants in biological tissues for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 92-494, 69 p.

Eisler, R., 1987, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon hazards to fish, wildlife, and invertebratesa synoptic review: Laurel, Md., Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 85 (1.11), 81 p.

Harte, John, Holdren, Cheryl, Schneider, Richard, and Shirley, Christine, 1991, Toxics A to Z--a guide to everyday pollution hazards: Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press, 479 p.

Newell, Arthur J., Johnson, David W. and Allen, Laurie K. 1987, Niagara River biota contamination project-Fish flesh criteria for piscivorous wildlife: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Environmental Protection, Technical Report 87-3, 182 p.

Rand, G.M., and Petrocelli, S.R., 1985, Fundamentals of aquatic toxicology methods and applications: New York, Hemisphere Publishing Corp., 666 p.

Shelton, L.R., and Capel, P.D., 1994, Guidelines for collecting and processing samples of stream bed sediment for analysis of trace elements and organic contaminants for the National Water-Quality Assessment Program: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 94-458, 20 p.

Data Tables

Table1. Organochlorine compounds in streambed sediment from sites in the Puget Sound Basin,
September 1995

Download tab-delimited file

Table2. Metals in streambed sediment from sites in the Puget Sound Basin, September, 1995
Download tab-delimited file

Table3. Semivolatile organic compounds in streambed sediment from sites in the Puget Sound Basin, September, 1995
Download tab-delimited file

Table4. Organochlorine compounds in whole sculpin tissue from sites in the Puget Sound Basin, September, 1995
Download tab-delimited file

Table5. Metals in whole sculpin tissue from sites in the Puget Sound Basin, September, 1995
Download tab-delimited file


The URL for this document is http://wa.water.usgs.gov/pugt/fs.105-98.html
This document is maintained by Donna Tarver (drtarver@usgs.gov)
Last modified: Thu Nov 19 09:46:01 1998