Despite increasingly strict control of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) releases in France since the mid-1970s, PCB contamination of fish recently has emerged as a major concern in the lower Rhone River basin. We measured PCB concentrations in Rhone sediment to evaluate the effects of PCB releases from major urban and industrial areas, sediment redistribution by large floods, and regulatory controls on PCB trends from 1970 to present. Profiles of PCBs (the sum of seven indicator PCB congeners) were reconstructed from sediment cores collected from an off-river rural reference site and from three depositional areas along the Rhone upstream and downstream from the city of Lyon, France. Core chronology was determined from radionuclide profiles and flood deposits. PCB concentrations increased progressively in the downstream direction, and reached a maximum concentration in 1991 of 281 μg/kg at the most downstream site. At the rural reference site and at the upstream Rhone site, PCB concentrations peaked in the 1970s (maximum concentration of 13 and 78 μg/kg, respectively) and have decreased exponentially since then. PCB concentrations in the middle and downstream cores were elevated into the early 1990s, decreased very rapidly until 2000, and since then have remained relatively stable. Congener profiles for three time windows (1965–80, 1986–93, and 2000–08) were similar in the three sediment cores from the Rhone and different from those at the rural reference site. The results indicate that permitted discharges from a hazardous-waste treatment facility upstream from Lyon might have contributed to high concentrations into the 1980-90s, but that industrial discharges from the greater Lyon area and tributaries to the Rhone near Lyon have had a greater contribution since the 1990s. There is little indication that PCB concentration in sediments downstream from Lyon will decrease over at least the short term.
Additional publication details
Spatial and temporal trends in PCBs in sediment along the lower Rhone River, France