During the period from October 1978 to March 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey assessed the river quality of the Schuylkill River basin in Pennsylvania from the headwaters to the Fairmount Dam at Philadelphia (river mile 8.4). The assessment focused on the distribution and transport of trace metals and organic substances (trace substances). Trace metals included were arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, and zinc; trace organic substances included organochlorine insecticides and polychlorinated biphenyls.
In general, concentrations of trace substances in the streambed sediments were greater in the main stem of the Schuylkill River than in its tributaries and exceeded the background concentrations in the study area. Concentrations of most trace metals in the sediments were lowest in the Berne area (river mile 95) and highest in the urban-industrial area of Reading (river mile 76). Concentrations generally decreased from Reading downstream to Philadelphia (river mile 10.2). Concentrations of the organochlorine insecticides chlordane, DDT and its metabolites, and dieldrin generally increased gradually from Berne to Philadelphia. Average concentrations of trace metals in the main stem of the Schuylkill River in the sediment-sized fraction, less than 0.063 millimeters, were: zinc, 603 ?g/g (micrograms per gram); lead, 284 ?g/g; copper, 252 ?g/g; nickel, 119 ?g/g; chromium, 96 ?g/g; beryllium, 8.2 ?g/g; arsenic, 0.64 ?g/g; and mercury, 0.002 ?g/g. Average concentrations of trace organic substances in sediments of the main stem of the river were: polychlorinated biphenyls, 152 ?g/kg (micrograms per kilogram); chlordane, 24 ?g/kg; DDT and its metabolites, 18 ?g/kg; and dieldrin, 1.8 ?g/kg.
The average annual transport of trace substances by the river was computed for chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. Concentrations of other trace substances in the sediment-water mixtures were generally undetectable. Of the trace metals, average annual transport of zinc was the greatest, and that of nickel was the least. Transport of trace metals in the river is closely associated with and related to suspended-sediment transport. About 71 percent of the average annual total metal transport is particulate material.
Yields, in tons per square mile per year, of copper, lead, zinc, and total organic carbon in the Schuylkill River basin were compared with yields in the Chattahoochee River basin (Georgia). The comparison indicates that yields, by constituent, were of the same order of magnitude. Both basins lie in the Piedmont province, and both have about the same percentage of urban land use.
The frequency of occurrence of concentrations of copper, lead, and zinc in the sediment-water mixture at Manayunk in Philadelphia were compared with domestic water-supply criteria of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The criteria are exceeded less than 1 percent of the time, or about 4 days per year.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Distribution and transport of trace substances in the Schuylkill River basin from Berne to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania