Use of chemical analysis and assays of semipermeable membrane devices extracts to assess the response of bioavailable organic pollutants in streams to urbanization in six metropolitan areas of the United States

Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5113

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Studies to assess the effects of urbanization on stream ecosystems are being conducted as part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. The overall objectives of these studies are to (1) determine how hydrologic, geomorphic, water quality, habitat, and biological characteristics respond to land-use changes associated with urbanization in specific environmental settings, and (2) compare these responses across environmental settings. As part of an integrated assessment, semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs) were deployed in streams along a gradient of urban land-use intensity in and around Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Denver-Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2003; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Milwaukee-Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Portland, Oregon, in 2004. Sites were selected to avoid point-source discharge and to minimize natural variability within each of the six metropolitan areas. In addition to standard chemical analysis for hydrophobic organic contaminants, three assays were used to address mixtures and potential toxicity: (1) Fluoroscan provides an estimate of the total concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); (2) the P450RGS assay indicates the presence and levels of aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonists; and (3) Microtox® measures toxicological effects on photo-luminescent bacteria.

Of the 140 compounds targeted or identified by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis in this study, 67 were not detected. In terms of numbers and types of compounds, the following were detected: 2 wood preservatives, 6 insecticides (parent compounds), 5 herbicides, 22 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 2 dibenzofurans, 4 polychlorinated biphenyls, 7 compounds associated with fragrances or personal care products, 4 steroids associated with wastewater, 5 polydibromated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants), 3 plasticizers, 3 antimicrobials/disinfectants, and 3 detergent metabolites.

Of the 73 compounds detected and three assays utilized, 29 were detected in 25 percent or more of the streams and were strongly related to increases in urban intensity (defined as having a Spearman’s rho > 0.5 with percent urban land cover) in at least one of the six metropolitan areas investigated. These 29 endpoints included 16 PAHs, a wood preservative (pentachloroanisole), 2 insecticides (chlorpyrifos and chlordane), 3 herbicides (benfluralin, trifluralin, and dacthal), a synthetic musk (hexahydrohexamethylcyclopentabenzopyran, HHCB), 2 furans (methyldibenzofuran and benzo[b]naphtho[2,3-d]furan), and a flame retardant (BDE 47). In addition, the number of compounds detected and results of the Fluoroscan and P450RGS assays were strongly related to urban intensity.

Average water concentrations estimated from SPMDs were compared to screening benchmarks for the protection of human health and aquatic life; of the 14 compounds with available benchmarks, 3 compounds (anthracene, dieldrin, and diazinon) exceeded those levels in one or more streams. Both dieldrin and anthracene exceeded their respective benchmarks in seven streams, and diazinon in only one stream. There were more exceedances in Milwaukee-Green Bay and Raleigh-Durham than in the other metropolitan areas, and there were no exceedances in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The six metropolitan areas studied differed in the number and types of endpoints related to urban intensity, probably from a combination of factors governing source strength, transport, and fate of hydrophobic compounds. The number of endpoints strongly related to urban intensity ranged from 3 in Dallas-Fort Worth and Portland to 21 in Raleigh-Durham. High frequencies of detection and strong correlations with urban land cover for pyrogenic PAHs (such as unsubstituted 4-ringed PAHs) in all six metropolitan areas indicate that these compounds are an important component of urbanization, regardless of location. Pentachloroanisole, dibenzofurans, and petrogenic PAHs (alkylated PAHs and heterocyclic dibenzothiophenes) were frequently detected and strongly related to urban intensity in Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Milwaukee-Green Bay, and Denver-Fort Collins. Two insecticides were related to urban intensity: chlorpyrifos in Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, and Dallas-Fort Worth; and chlordane in Raleigh-Durham. Three herbicides were strongly related to urban intensity: trifluralin in Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham; benfluralin in Atlanta, and dacthal in Denver-Fort Collins. The detection frequencies for most wastewater indicator compounds were too low to establish relations with urban intensity. Of the wastewater compounds analyzed, HHCB in Raleigh-Durham and Denver-Fort Collins, and BDE 47 in Denver-Fort Collins and Dallas-Forth Worth, had the strongest relations with urban intensity.

In addition to pyrogenic PAHs, levels of aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonists (as measured by the P450RGS assay) were strongly related to increasing urban intensity in all six metropolitan areas. PAHs were the only group of aryl hydrocarbon agonists consistently detected and related with urban intensity in all six metropolitan areas. It is unknown which compounds in the SPMDs caused the increased response in the P450RGS assay because the SPMDs likely contained many aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonists not quantified by chemical analysis. It is clear that bioavailable, aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonists increase in streams with increasing urban intensity in the basin. Potential toxicity mediated by this metabolic pathway should be considered in integrated assessments of the response of aquatic biota to urbanization.

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USGS Numbered Series
Use of chemical analysis and assays of semipermeable membrane devices extracts to assess the response of bioavailable organic pollutants in streams to urbanization in six metropolitan areas of the United States
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
National Water Quality Assessment Program
Report: viii, 47 p.; 2 Appendices (Excel files)
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