Selected chemical characteristics and acute toxicity of urban stormwater, streamflow, and bed material, Maricopa County, Arizona

Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4074
Prepared in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
By:  and 

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Abstract

The chemistry and toxicity of urban stormwater, streamflow, and bed material in the Phoenix, Arizona, area were characterized to determine if urban stormwater could degrade the quality of streams. Toxic phases of stormwater (oil and grease, suspended solids, dissolved metals, and dissolved organics) were identified to aid water-quality managers minimize the sources of toxicants. Acute aquatic toxicity tests were done using the water flea Ceriodaphnia dubia and fathead minnows (Pimaphales promelas), and acute sediment toxicity tests were done using the amphipod Hyalella azteca. Statistical analyses also were used to determine the effect of urbanization on the quality of water and bed material and to identify toxic constituents.

Statistical analyses indicated that urban stormwater could degrade the quality of streamflow with oil and grease, pesticides, dissolved trace metals, and ammonia, and that ammonia, lead, cadmium, and zinc are released by urban activities and accumulate in bed material. Ammonia may be from fertilizers, fecal matter, and other sources. Lead probably is from vehicles that use leaded gasoline. Cadmium and zinc could be from paniculate metal in oil, brake pads, and other sources.

Samples of the initial runoff from urban drainage basins appeared to be more toxic than flowweighted composite samples, and stormwater was more harmful to fathead minnows than to Ceriodaphnia dubia. Streamflow samples from the Salt River were not toxic to either species, which indicates that urban stormwater could degrade the quality of the Salt River. The enhanced mortality rate of fathead minnows exposed to urban stormwater from most urban drainage basins indicated that the toxicants were more detrimental to fish than to insects and could be present in stormwater throughout the Phoenix area. The most toxic stormwater samples were collected from the drainage basins with residential and commercial land use, and the toxicity probably was due to surfactants and (or) other constituents leached from asphalt and resealant Results of toxicity identification evaluations indicated that the toxicity of stormwater mostly was due to organic constituents; dissolved zinc and copper also appeared to contribute to stormwater toxicity. Statistical comparisons of chemical data to toxicity data indicated that organophosphate pesticides were not the toxic constituents, and the toxicity generally was due to organic constituents that were not analyzed.

The most toxic bed-material samples were collected from a drainage basin with undeveloped land use. In these bed-material samples, mortality rates were significantly higher than in samples from ephemeral channels. Comparisons between the toxicity of bed-material samples from undeveloped and urban drainage basins and between urban drainage basins and ephemeral channels showed no significant difference. In urban drainage basins, bed-material samples collected from areas where stormwater accumulates appeared to be more toxic than samples collected from areas where stormwater does not accumulate.

For bed-material samples from the undeveloped drainage basin, mortality rates strongly correlated with recoverable concentrations of zinc and moderately correlated with recoverable concentrations of copper. The high mortality rate probably was due to naturally occurring trace metals. For bed-material samples from urban drainage basins, mortality rates significantly correlated with recoverable concentrations of cadmium and zinc, which resulted from urban activities. The bioavailability of trace metals in bed material appeared to be controlled by the adsorption properties of organic carbon, iron, and manganese. Organochlorine pesticides were detected in most bed-material samples; however, mortality rates were poorly correlated with pesticide concentrations.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Selected chemical characteristics and acute toxicity of urban stormwater, streamflow, and bed material, Maricopa County, Arizona
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 95-4074
DOI 10.3133/wri954074
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description v, 52 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
County Maricopa County