By S. J. Rheaume, D. T. Button, D. N. Myers, and D. L. Hubbell
Concerns about elevated concentrations of contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury in aquatic bed sediments throughout the Great Lakes Basin have resulted in a need for better understanding of the scope and severity of the problem. Various organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, trace metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are a concern because of their ability to persist and accumulate in aquatic sediments and their association with adverse aquatic biological effects. The areal distribution and concentrations in surficial bed sediments of 20 contaminants of concern with established bed-sediment-toxicity guidelines were examined in relation to their potential effects on freshwater aquatic biota. Contaminants at more than 800 sampling locations are characterized in this report. Surficial bed-sediment-quality data collected from 1990 to 1997 in the Lake Erie–Lake Saint Clair Drainages were evaluated to reflect recent conditions. In descending order, concentrations of total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, phenanthrene, total polychlorinated biphenyls, chrysene, benz[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, cadmium, lead, zinc, arsenic, and mercury were the contaminants that most commonly exceeded levels associated with probable adverse effects on aquatic benthic organisms. The highest concentrations of most of these contaminants in aquatic bed sediments are confined to the 12 specific geographic Areas of Concern identified in the 1987 Revisions to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972. An exception is arsenic, which was detected at concentrations exceeding threshold effect levels at many locations outside Areas of Concern.
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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey