The U.S. Geological Survey, as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, evaluated the occurrence and distribution of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and trace elements in fish tissue in samples collected in the lower Tennessee River Basin study unit. Fish tissue analysis provides a time-averaged measurement of contaminants as well as a direct measurement of the contaminants that bioaccumulate in fish tissue. Bioaccumulation of contaminants in fish tissue may result in concentrations that can affect human, wildlife, or aquatic health. Data for two types of tissue analyses were evaluated to assess the occurrence and distribution of contaminants: whole fish for organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls and fish fillets for organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and trace elements. The fish tissue data analyzed for this study cover an 18-year span including data collected in 1998 by the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program; data collected from 1980 through 1997 by the Tennessee Valley Authority; and data collected from 1992 through 1997 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Concentration data for constituents that are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Priority Pollutant List were summarized and compared against existing action levels or guidelines.From the list of organochlorine pesticide compounds analyzed, p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE), a breakdown product of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), was the most commonly detected compound with detections at 83 percent of the sites sampled. Eleven p,p'-DDE samples exceeded action levels or guidelines with concentrations ranging from 0.20 to 12.8 milligrams per kilogram. Five other organochlorine compounds, p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (p,p'-DDD), dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, and polychlorinated biphenyls, also exceeded action levels and guidelines, but the detection frequencies at sampling sites generally were less than 70 percent. Mercury, the only trace element to exceed a guideline, was detected at 51 of 102 sites sampled for trace elements. Selenium was detected in fish fillet samples from 70 of 102 sites sampled, which was more sites than for any other trace element; however, selenium did not exceed the 50 micrograms per gram U.S. Environmental Protection Agency screening criteria. Arsenic and cadmium also were detected at 44 and 54 percent of the sampling sites, respectively.
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USGS Numbered Series
Occurrence and distribution of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and trace elements in fish tissue in the lower Tennessee River basin, 1980-98