Metal concentrations in surface sediments of Boston Harbor: Changes with time

Marine Environmental Research
By: , and 



The concentrations of metals in surface sediments of Boston Harbor have decreased during the period 1977–1993. This conclusion is supported by analysis of: (1) surface sediments collected at monitoring stations in the outer harbor between 1977 and 1993; (2) metal concentration profiles in sediment cores from depositional areas of the harbor; and (3) historical data from a contaminated-sediment database, which includes information on metal and organic contaminants and sediment texture. The background and matrix-corrected concentrations of lead (Pb) measured in the surficial layer (0–2 cm) of cores decreased by an average of 46%±12% among four locations in the outer harbor during the 16 y period. Chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), mercury (Hg), silver (Ag), and zinc (Zn) exhibited similar trends. Results from our sediment sampling are supported by historical data that were compiled from diverse sources into a regional sediment database. This sediment database contains approximately 3000 samples; of these, about 460 samples were collected and analyzed for Cu, Hg, or Zn and many other sediment parameters in Boston Harbor surface sediments between 1971–1993. The database indicates that the concentrations of these three metals also decreased with time in Boston’s Inner Harbor. The decreases in metal concentrations that are observed in more recent years parallel a general decrease in the flux of metals to the harbor, implemented by: (1) ending the sewage sludge discharge to the Harbor in December, 1991; (2) greater source reduction (e.g. recovery of silver from photographic processing) and closing or moving of industries; (3) improvements in wastewater handling and sewage treatment; and (4) diminishing use of lead in gasoline beginning about 1973. Despite the general decrease in metal concentrations in Boston Harbor surface sediments, the concentrations of Ag and Hg measured at some outer harbor stations in 1993 were still at, or above, the level associated with frequent adverse effects to marine organisms (guidelines are: Ag 3.7 μg g−1, Hg 1.17 μg g−1, from Long et al., 1995). Concentrations of the other metals listed were in the range considered to occasionally induce adverse biological effects.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Metal concentrations in surface sediments of Boston Harbor: Changes with time
Series title Marine Environmental Research
DOI 10.1016/S0141-1136(97)00027-5
Volume 45
Issue 2
Year Published 1998
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 29 p.
First page 127
Last page 155
Country United States
State Massachusetts
Other Geospatial Boston Harbor
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