Estuaries receive large quantities of suspended sediments following the first major storm of the water year. The first-flush events transport the majority of suspended sediments in any given year, and because of their relative freshness in the hydrologic system, these sediments may carry a significant amount of the sediment-associated pesticide load transported into estuaries. To characterize sediment-associated pesticides during a first-flush event, water and suspended sediment samples were collected at the head of the San Francisco Bay during the peak in suspended sediment concentration that followed the first major storm of the 1996 hydrologic year. Samples were analyzed for a variety of parameters as well as 19 pesticides and degradation products that span a wide range of hydrophobicity. Tidal mixing at the head of the estuary mixed relatively fresh suspended sediment transported down the rivers with suspended sediments in estuary waters. Segregation of the samples into groups with similar degrees of mixing between river and estuary water revealed that transport of suspended sediments from the Sacramento-San Joaquin drainage basin strongly influenced the concentration and distribution of sediment-associated pesticides entering the San Francisco Bay. The less-mixed suspended sediment contained a different distribution of pesticides than the sediments exposed to greater mixing. Temporal trends were evident in pesticide content after samples were segregated according to mixing history. These results indicate sampling strategies that collect at a low frequency or do not compare samples with similar mixing histories will not elucidate basin processes. Despite the considerable influence of mixing, a large number of pesticides were found associated with the suspended sediments. Few pesticides were found in the concurrent water samples and in concentrations much lower than predicted from equilibrium partitioning between the aqueous and sedimentary phases. The observed sediment-associated pesticide concentrations may reflect disequilibria between sedimentary and aqueous phases resulting from long equilibration times at locations where pesticides were applied, and relatively short transit times over which re-equilibration may occur.
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Pesticides associated with suspended sediments entering San Francisco Bay following the first major storm of water year 1996