Trace elements and organic compounds in streambed sediment and fish tissue of coastal New England streams, 1998-99

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4179




Streambed sediment and fish tissue were collected at 14 river sites in eastern New England during low-flow conditions in 1998 and 1999 as part of the New England Coastal Basins (NECB) study of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Sampling sites were selected over a range of urban settings. Population densities at selected sites ranged from 26 to 3,585 people per square mile, and urban land use ranged from 1 to 68 percent. The streambed sediment samples were analyzed for a total of 141 contaminants, including 45 trace elements, 32 organochlorine compounds, and 64 semi-volatile organic compounds. The fish tissue samples were analyzed for 22 trace elements and 28 organochlorine compounds. Concentrations of selected contaminants in both streambed sediment and fish tissue correlated more strongly with population density than with other watershed characteristics. Cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, zinc, total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane and metabolites (DDTM), and total chlordane in streambed sediment all showed strong positive correlations with population density (rho = 0.71 to 0.85, p value = 0.005 to <0.001). Correlations between population density and selected contaminants in fish tissue were less significant than with streambed sediment (rho = 0.62 to 0.72, p value = 0.03 to 0.008). Organic carbon concentrations were correlated with concentrations of arsenic, selenium, total PAHs, total PCBs, and DDTM in streambed sediment. The relation between concentrations of contaminants in streambed sediment and fish tissue was stronger for organochlorine compounds (rho = 0.75 to 0.55, p = 0.005 to 0.065) than for trace elements (rho = 0.63 to 0.53, p = 0.029 to 0.069). The NECB study area had the highest median concentrations of lead, mercury, total PAHs, total PCBs, and DDTM in streambed sediment and the highest median concentration of PCBs in fish tissue compared to 45 other NAWQA study units across the Nation. Concentrations of many of these constituents in streambed sediment also were frequently above the consensus-based Sediment-Quality Guidelines for the protection of wildlife, suggesting they are a threat to the health of aquatic biota in New England.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Trace elements and organic compounds in streambed sediment and fish tissue of coastal New England streams, 1998-99
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
vi, 30 p. : ill., maps ; 28 cm.