Freshwater impoundments at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), South Carolina, provide an important habitat for wildlife species, but degraded sediment quality in the Savannah River downstream of the discharge from two impoundments have caused concern about potential contaminant problems within the impoundments. The quality of sediments from five impoundments (impoundments no. 1, 2, 6, 7, and 17) on the NWR was evaluated using physical and chemical characterization, contaminant concentrations (metals, organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and toxicity testing. Survival of Hyalella azteca (freshwater amphipod) exposed for 28 days to solid-phase sediments was not significantly different from controls, but growth was significantly decreased at several sites. Survival in 96-hour exposures to sediment pore water was significantly decreased at most sites. Factors contributing to the toxic responses were low pH (3.7 to 4.1), ammonia (20 mg/L), and increased concentrations of cations in the pore water. The excess of simultaneously extracted metals over the acid volatile sulfides in the sediments was also typical of sites displaying decreased sediment quality. Elemental concentrations in pore water were negatively correlated with pH, and the highest concentrations were observed in impoundment no. 7. The acidic nature of the sediment in this impoundment was exacerbated by recent draining, burning, and disking, which allowed oxidation of the previously anoxic wetland sediment. Sediment disturbance and mixing of vegetation into the sediments by disking may also have contributed to the formation of ammonia caused by microbial decomposition of the fragmented organic matter. Contaminants were not detected in sediments from the impoundments, but releases of acidic water with increased levels of sediment cations from the impoundments may have contributed to the degraded sediment conditions previously observed in the river. The practice of dewatering sediments for vegetation control may exacerbate the acidification of vulnerable sediments within impoundments of this NWR.
Additional Publication Details
Sediment quality in freshwater impoundments at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology