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Fish tissue and bed sediment samples were collected from 16 stream sites in the Northern Rockies Intermontane Basins study area in 1998 as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Bed sediment samples were analyzed for 45 trace elements, and fish livers and sportfish fillets were analyzed for 22 elements to characterize the occurrence and distribution of these elements in relation to stream characteristics and land use activities. Nine trace elements of environmental concern—arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc—were detected in bed sediment, but not all of these elements were detected in fish tissue. Trace-element concentrations were highest in bed sediment samples collected at sites downstream from significant natural mineral deposits and (or) mining activities. Arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc in bed sediment at some sites were elevated relative to national median concentrations, and some concentrations were at levels that can adversely affect aquatic biota. Although trace-element concentrations in bed sediment exceeded various guidelines, no concentrations in sportfish fillets exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency screening values for the protection of human health. Correlations between most trace-element concentrations in bed sediment and fish tissue (liver and fillet) were not significant (r<±0.50, p>0.05). Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc in bed sediment were significantly correlated (r=0.53 to 0.88, p<0.05) with natural mineral deposits and mining activities, but concentrations in fish tissue generally were not correlated with these measures. Regression analysis between mine density and the sum of trace-element concentrations in bed sediment identified two statistically significant relations (r2=0.95 and 0.99, p<0.001) that corresponded to trace-element enrichment categories. These strong relations warrant further study using mine density as an explanatory variable to predict trace-element concentrations in bed sediment.
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Concentrations of selected trace elements in fish tissue and streambed sediment in the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille and Spokane River basins, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1998