During more than 60 years, sedimentation on the Palos Verdes Shelf has been dominated by time-varying inputs of municipal wastewater from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD) and debris from the Portuguese Bend Landslide (PBL). The present study examines the depositional history of wastewater-derived organic contaminants at a site approximately 6-8 km downcurrent from the outfall system. Sediments at this location are impacted by contributions from both sources, but the relative influence of the sources has changed over time. Two classes of hydrophobic organic contaminants (chlorinated hydrocarbons, long-chain alkylbenzenes) were determined in sediment cores collected in 1981 and 1992. Using molecular stratigraphy, we determined average sedimentation rates (cm/year) and mass accumulation rates (g cm-2 year-1) for the following periods: 1955-1965, 1965-1971, 1971-1981 and 1981-1992. The results show that sedimentation and mass accumulation rates increased from 1955 to 1971 and decreased from 1971 to 1981. These trends are consistent with historical information on the emission of suspended solids from the outfall system, indicating that the discharge of wastes dominated sedimentation at the site during this period. In the 1980s and early 1990s, however, mass accumulation rates increased in spite of continually decreasing emissions of wastewater solids. Several lines of evidence indicate that this increase was due to mobilization of debris from the PBL during and after unusually strong winter storms in the 1980s. As a result, heavily contaminated sediments deposited during the years of greatest waste emissions (i.e. 1950-1970) have been buried to greater sub-bottom depths, thereby reducing their availability for mobilization to the overlying water column. These results highlight the dynamic nature of sedimentation in contaminated coastal ecosystems and its importance to the long-term fate and effects of toxic substances.
Additional publication details
Depositional history of organic contaminants on the Palos Verdes Shelf, California