Organic wastewater compounds in water and sediment in and near restored wetlands, Great Marsh, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2009–11

Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5186
National Park Service / U.S. Geological Survey–Water Quality Partnership Program
By: , and 



A cooperative investigation between the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service was completed from 2009 through 2011 to understand the occurrence, distribution, and environmental processes affecting concentrations of organic wastewater compounds in water and sediment in and near Great Marsh at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Beverly Shores, Indiana. Sampling sites were selected to represent hydrologic inputs to the restored wetlands from adjacent upstream residential and less developed areas and to represent discharge points of cascading cells within the restored wetland. A multiphase approach was used for the investigation. Discrete water samples and time-integrated passive samples were analyzed for 69 organic wastewater compounds. Continuous water-level information and periodic streamflow measurements characterized flow conditions at discharge points from restored wetland cells. Wetland sediments were collected and analyzed for sorptive losses of organic wastewater compounds and to evaluate of the potential for wetland sediments to biotransform organic wastewater compounds. A total of 52 organic wastewater compounds were detected in discrete water samples at 1 or more sites. Detections of organic wastewater compounds were widespread, but concentrations were generally low and 95 percent were less than 2.1 micrograms per liter. Six compounds were detected at concentrations greater than 2.1 micrograms per liter—four fecal sterols (beta-sitosterol, cholesterol, beta-stigmastanol, and 2-beta coprostanol), one plasticizer (bis-2-ethylhex ylphthalate), and a non-ionic detergent (4-nonylphenol diethoxylate). Two 1-month deployments of time-integrative passive samplers, called polar organic chemical integrative samplers, detected organic wastewater compounds at lower concentrations than were possible with discrete water samples. Isopropyl benzene (solvent), caffeine (plant alkaloid, stimulant), and hexahydrohexamethyl cyclopentabenzopyran (fragrance) were detected in more than half of the extracts from passive samplers, but they were not detected in any discrete water sample. The Yeast Estrogen Screen assay identified measurable estrogenicity in one passive sampler extract from the most downstream wetland site in both the April and November–December 2011 deployments and in passive sampler extracts from one residential and one upstream site in the November–December 2011 deployment only. Surface-water levels in the restored wetland cells were monitored continuously using submersible pressure transducers in hand-driven well points screened in the surface water. Surface-water levels in the wetland cells responded quickly to precipitation and substantially receded within 2 days following the largest rainfall events. Seasonal patterns in water levels generally showed higher and more variable surface-water levels in the wetland cells during spring and early summer. Water levels in the wetland cells fell below the elevation of the control structures and ceased to flow over the spillways during extended dry periods (primarily late summer and early fall). Daily loads of seven organic wastewater compounds, as indicators of septic system effluent, were estimated for samples collected at wetland outlet spillways when flow measurements could be made. Median daily loads of the indicator organic wastewater compounds increased in downstream order, and the largest median loads were measured at the most downstream site. Median daily loads were higher for samples collected in spring and summer than those collected in fall, as the higher seasonal water levels increased streamflow at the wetland outlet spillways. Wetland sediment samples were analyzed for 84 organic wastewater compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and semivolatile organic compounds to investigate the fate of contaminants in Great Marsh. The top five detected compounds by total mass in wetland sediment samples were beta-sitosterol, beta-stigmastanol, cholesterol, bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, and phenol. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons also were frequently detected in wetland sediment samples. Source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon detections indicated atmospheric sources of pyrogenic compounds, rather than residential sources. Comparisons of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations in wetland sediment samples to sediment quality target guidelines indicated the potential for harmful effects on sediment-dwelling organisms at several sites. Biodegradation of select endocrine-disrupting compounds (17α-ethinylestradiol, 4-nonylphenol, triclocarban, and bisphenol A) in shallow wetland sediments was evaluated in laboratory experiments by using carbon-14 radiolabeled model contaminants. Substantial biodegradation of certain organic wastewater compounds were demonstrated, primarily in oxic (oxygen containing) environments. One of four modeled compounds, bisphenol A, was biodegraded in anoxic (oxygen free) environments. Only sediments collected nearest residential areas exhibited degradation of the synthetic birth control pharmaceutical, 17α-ethinylestradiol, possibly owing to adaptation and acclimation of the indigenous microbial community to septic discharge and the resultant selection of a microbial capability for biodegradation of 17α-ethinylestradiol.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Organic wastewater compounds in water and sediment in and near restored wetlands, Great Marsh, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2009–11
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2013-5186
DOI 10.3133/sir20135186
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Indiana Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 52 p.; 3 Appendices
Country United States
State Indiana
Other Geospatial Great Marsh;Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Datum North American Datum 1983
Projection Universal Transverse Mercator projection, Zone 16
Scale 100000
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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