Several classes of chemicals that are known or suspected contaminants were found in bed sediment in Rock Creek, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalate esters, organochlorine pesticides, dioxins and furans, trace metals and metalloids (mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, nickel, silver, and zinc), and polychlorinated biphenyls (total PCBs and selected aroclors). Concentrations of many of these chemicals consistently exceeded threshold or chronic-effects guidelines for the protection of aquatic life and often exceeded probable effects levels (PELs).
Exceedance of PELs was dependent on the amount of total organic carbon in the sediments. Concurrent with the collection of sediment-quality data, white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) were evaluated for gross-external and internal-organ anomalies, whole-body burdens of chemical contaminants, and gut contents to determine prey. The histopathology of internal tissues of white sucker was compared to contaminant levels in fish tissue and bed sediment. Gut contents were examined to determine preferential prey and thus potential pathways for the bioaccumulation of chemicals from bed sediments. Male and female fish were tested separately. Lesions and other necroses were observed in all fish collected during both years of sample collection, indicating that fish in Rock Creek have experienced some form of environmental stress. No direct cause and effect was determined for chemical exposure and compromised fish health, but a substantial weight of evidence indicates that white sucker, which are bottom-feeding fish and low-order consumers in Rock Creek, are experiencing some reduction in vitality, possibly due to immunosuppression. Abnormalities observed in gonads of both sexes of white sucker and observations of abnormal behavior during spawning indicated some interruption in reproductive success.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Chemical and Ecological Health of White Sucker (Catostomus Commersoni) in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., 2003-04