Organochlorine compounds and current-use pesticides were measured in snow and lake-sediment samples from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana to determine their occurrence and distribution in high-elevation aquatic ecosystems. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service, collected snow samples at eight sites in Rocky Mountain National Park and at eight sites in Glacier National Park during spring of 2002 and 2003 just prior to the start of snowmelt. Surface sediments were collected from 11 lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park and 10 lakes in Glacier National Park during summer months of 2002 and 2003. Samples were analyzed for organochlorine compounds by gas chromatography with electron-capture detection and current-use pesticides by gas chromatography with electron-impact mass spectrometry. A subset of samples was reanalyzed using a third instrumental technique (gas chromatography with electron-capture negative ion mass spectrometry) to verify detected concentrations in the initial analysis and to investigate the presence of additional compounds.
For the snow samples, the pesticides most frequently detected were endosulfan, dacthal, and chlorothalonil, all of which are chlorinated pesticides that currently are registered for use in North America. Concentrations of these pesticides in snow were very low, ranging from 0.07 to 2.36 nanograms per liter. Of the historical-use pesticides, hexachlorobenzene, dieldrin, and trans-nonachlor were detected in snow but only in one sample each. Annual deposition rates of dacthal, endosulfan, and chlorothalonil were estimated at 0.7 to 3.0 micrograms per square meter. These estimates are likely biased low because they do not account for pesticide deposition during summer months.
For the lake-sediment samples, DDE (p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichoroethene) and DDD (p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichoroethane) were the most frequently detected organochlorine compounds. DDE and DDD are degradation products of DDT (p,p'-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which is a well-documented, persistent organochlorine insecticide that has been banned from use in the United States since 1972. Detected concentrations were very low, ranging from 0.12 to 4.7 micrograms per kilogram, and probably pose little threat to aquatic organisms in park lakes. DDD and DDE concentrations in a sediment core from Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park indicate that atmospheric deposition of DDT and possibly other banned organochlorine compounds to high-elevation parks has been in decline since the 1970s. Commonly detected current-use pesticides in lake sediments included dacthal and endosulfan sulfate, which ranged in concentrations from 0.11 to 0.26 micrograms per kilogram for dacthal and 0.12 to 1.2 micrograms per kilogram for endosulfan sulfate. Both compounds were found in nearly all the snow samples, confirming that some current-use pesticides entering high-elevation aquatic ecosystems through atmospheric deposition are accumulating in lake sediments and potentially in aquatic biota.