While previous studies have documented contaminants in fish, sediments, water, and wildlife, few specifics are known about the spatial distribution of contaminants in the Columbia River Estuary (CRE). Our study goal was to characterize sediment contaminant detections and concentrations in reaches of the CRE that were concurrently being sampled to assess contaminants in water, invertebrates, fish, and osprey (Pandion haliaetus) eggs. Our objectives were to develop a survey design based on sedimentation characteristics and then assess whether sediment grain size, total organic carbon (TOC), and contaminant concentrations and detections varied between areas with different sedimentation characteristics. We used a sediment transport model to predict sedimentation characteristics of three 16 km river reaches in the CRE. We then compartmentalized the modeled change in bed mass after a two week simulation to define sampling strata with depositional, stable, or erosional conditions. We collected and analyzed bottom sediments to assess whether substrate composition, organic matter composition, and contaminant concentrations and detections varied among strata within and between the reaches. We observed differences in grain size fractions between strata within and between reaches. We found that the fine sediment fraction was positively correlated with TOC. Contaminant concentrations were statistically different between depositional vs. erosional strata for the industrial compounds, personal care products and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons class (Indus–PCP–PAH). We also observed significant differences between strata in the number of detections of Indus–PCP–PAH (depositional vs. erosional; stable vs. erosional) and for the flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls, and pesticides class (depositional vs. erosional, depositional vs. stable). When we estimated mean contaminant concentrations by reach, we observed higher contaminant concentrations in the furthest downstream reach with a decreasing trend in the two upstream reaches. Contaminant survey designs that account for sedimentation characteristics could increase the probability that sampling is allocated to areas likely to be contaminated.
Additional publication details
A survey of benthic sediment contaminants in reaches of the Columbia River Estuary based on channel sedimentation characteristics