PCB concentrations in Pere Marquette River and Muskegon River watersheds, 2002

Open-File Report 2004-1088

Prepared in cooperation with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality



Polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) are a class of209 individual compounds (known as congeners) for which there are no known natural sources. PCBs are carcinogenic and bioaccumulative compounds. For over 40 years, PCBs were manufactured in the United States. The flame resistant property of PCBs made them ideal chemicals for use as flame-retardants, and as coolants and lubricants in transformers and other electrical equipment. PCBs were also used in heating coils, carbonless paper, degreasers, varnishes, lacquers, waterproofing material, and cereal boxes. In addition, they were frequently used in the manufacturing of plastics, adhesives, and paints.

During the manufacturing period of PCBs, these chemicals entered the environment though atmospheric release during manufacturing and burning of PCB products, leaks and spills, and improper disposal. Although PCB manufacturing was banned over 20 years ago, PCBs still enter the environment from hazardous waste sites, improper disposals of PCB-containing products, weathering of asphalt and other substances containing PCBs, burning of PCB containing products, leakage from old equipment, leaching from landfills, and release from contaminated sediments. PCBs do not readily break down in the environment, thus remain there for long periods of time. A small amount may remain dissolved in water but most adhere to organic particles and bottom sediments.

In sufficient concentrations, PCBs affect human, wildlife, and aquatic health. PCBs accumulate in fatty tissues of animals and fish and are passed on to those that eat them. PCBs are animal teratogens and potentially carcinogenic. They can cause death of animals, fish, and birds; death or low growth rate of plants; shortened lifespan; reproductive problems; and lower fertility. Women who are exposed to high levels of PCBs may have babies with slightly lower birth weights and transfer the PCBs through the breast milk, which may affect the immune system and motor development of the child. Rule 323.1057 (Toxic Substances) of the Part 4. Water Quality Standards gives procedure for calculating water-quality values to protect human, wildlife and aquatic life. For total PCB, the applicable Rule 57 water-quality value is the human cancer value (HCV=0.26 ng/L),

In 2002, U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) cooperatively planned and executed a monitoring program for PCBs in water and sediment from the Pere Marquette River and Muskegon River watersheds. The Pere Marquette and Muskegon River are in the west central part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula (fig. 1). The Pere Marquette River watershed is about 750 square miles, and the Muskegon River is about 2700 square miles. Both rivers are popular recreational waters, and the Pere Marquette River is a Michigan designated Natural River (Part 305 of the Natural Rivers and Environmental Protection Act 451 of 1994).

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
PCB concentrations in Pere Marquette River and Muskegon River watersheds, 2002
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Michigan Water Science Center
28 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Muskegon River watershed, Pere Marquette River watershed