The enantiomeric composition of seven chiral PCB congeners was measured in the Lake Superior aquatic food web sampled in 1998, to determine the extent of enantioselective biotransformation in aquatic biota. All chiral PCB congeners studied (CBs 91, 95, 136, 149, 174, 176, and 183) biomagnified in the Lake Superior aquatic food web, based on biomagnification and food web magnification factors greater than unity. PCB atropisomers were racemic in phytoplankton and zooplankton, suggesting no biotransformation potential toward PCBs for these low trophic level organisms. However, Diporeia and mysids had significantly nonracemic residues for most chiral congeners studied. This observation suggests that these macrozooplankton can stereoselectively metabolize chiral congeners. Alternatively, macrozooplankton obtained nonracemic residues from feeding on organic-rich suspended particles and sediments, which would imply that stereoselective microbial PCB biotransformation may be occurring in Lake Superior sediments at PCB concentrations far lower than that previously associated with such activity. Widely nonracemic PCB residues in forage fish (lake herring, rainbow smelt, and slimy sculpin) and lake trout suggest a combination of both in vivo biotransformation and uptake of nonracemic residues from prey for these species. Minimum biotransformation rates, calculated from enantiomer mass balances between predators and prey, suggest metabolic half-lives on the order of 8 yr for CB 136 in lake trout and 2.6 yr for CB 95 in sculpins. This result suggests that significant biotransformation may occur for metabolizable PCB congeners over the lifespan of these biota. This study highlights the potential of chiral analysis to study biotransformation processes in food webs.
Additional publication details
Organochlorine compounds in Lake Superior: Chiral polychlorinated biphenyls and biotransformation in the aquatic food web