Contaminant baselines and sediment provenance along the Puget Sound Energy Transport Corridor, 2015

Open-File Report 2018-1196
By:  and 



The transport of coal and oil can result in contaminated soil, water, and organisms from unintended releases. Trains carrying coal and crude oil regularly pass through Puget Sound, Washington, and an increase in the number of coal and oil trains is expected in the future. This study characterized levels of potentially toxic contaminants in sediment in September 2015: arsenic, metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at four sites with fine-grained sediment (Chuckanut Bay, Padilla Bay, Snohomish River Delta, Nisqually River Delta) adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail line in the Puget Sound region. Arsenic (As) and metals levels were compared to those measured at a fifth site, urban Saltwater State Park, which was expected to show contaminants associated with urbanization but not rail transport of coal and oil because it is not adjacent to the BNSF rail line. Knowledge about current properties of soil and sediment is essential for quantifying impacts of spills and other releases, and for setting remediation or restoration targets. For the sampling effort and timing of this study, all five sites had fine sediment contents of cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) below minimal effects levels. Pb and Zn appeared to be urban sourced. Median As, chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), and nickel (Ni) levels were in the range where adverse biological effects would possibly occur; however, Cr and Ni were geologically sourced and unlikely to be bioavailable to organisms. As, Cu, and antimony (Sb) levels were highly correlated, an association that is characteristic of legacy smelting operations; however, total sediment contents of these three elements, along with Hg and As/Sb ratios, were near natural levels and could indicate river-borne inputs. Median total PAH concentrations were highest at Snohomish River Delta, but were below minimal effects levels at all sites. Diagnostic PAH ratios were indicative of PAHs sourced from petroleum combustion and coal/biomass burning, rather than from spilled petroleum or coal. Rare earth element patterns were distinct among watersheds with Cascade volcanoes, granitic rocks, or non-volcanic sediments, making them promising sediment provenance indicators. Knowledge about sediment sources and contaminant distributions could provide unique insights about sediment-bound contaminant sourcing, delivery, and dispersal in nearshore regions.

Suggested Citation

Takesue, R.K., and Campbell, P.L., 2019, Contaminant baselines and sediment provenance along the Puget Sound Energy Transport Corridor, 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1196, 10 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Background
  • Methods
  • Results and Discussion
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Contaminant baselines and sediment provenance along the Puget Sound Energy Transport Corridor, 2015
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2018-1196
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181196
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description iv, 10 p.
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Puget Sound
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details