This report describes the occurrence and distribution of five selected contaminants in streambed sediments at 22 stream sites in the Potomac River Basin. Lead, mercury, and total DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) were detected at all sites, and chlordane and total PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) were detected at most sites. At six sites, streambed-sediment concentrations of contaminants were detected at levels with the potential to cause frequent adverse effects on aquatic organisms that live in the sediments. Chlordane was detected at these high levels at sampling sites on the Anacostia River, the North Branch Potomac River, Bull Run, and Accotink Creek; mercury was detected at these levels at sites on the South River and the South Fork Shenandoah River; and total PCB's were detected at these levels at the site on the South Fork Shenandoah River. The highest concentrations of all five contaminants generally occurred at sampling sites downstream from areas with industrial plants, urban centers, or orchard and agricultural activity. The occurrence of these contaminants in streambed sediments of the Potomac River Basin is of concern because the contaminants (1) are environmentally persistent, (2) are available for downstream transport during high streamflow periods, and (3) have the potential to cause adverse effects on the health of aquatic organisms and humans through bioaccumulation.
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USGS Numbered Series
Selected trace-element and organic contaminants in the streambed sediments of the Potomac River basin, August 1992