Spatial distributions of metals and trace elements, nutrients, and pesticides and polychiorinated biphenyls (PCB's) in bed sediment were characterized using data collected from 1969 through 1990 and stored in the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Data Storage and Retrieval (WATSTORE) system and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Storage and Retrieval (STORET) system databases. Bed-sediment data from WATSTORE and STORET were combined to form a single database of 1,049 records representing 301 sites. Data were examined for concentrations of 16 metals and trace elements, 4 nutrients, 10 pesticides, and PCB's. Maximum bed-sediment concentrations were evaluated relative to sediment-quality guidelines developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Sites were not selected randomly; therefore, results should not be interpreted as representing average conditions. Many sites were located in or around lakes and reservoirs, urban areas, and areas where special investigations were conducted. Lakes and reservoirs function as effective sediment traps, and elevated concentrations of some constituents occurred at these sites. High concentrations of many metals and trace elements also occurred near urban areas where streams receive runoff or inputs from industrial, residential, and municipal activities. Elevated nutrient concentrations occurred near lakes, reservoirs, and the mouths of major rivers.
The highest concentrations of arsenic, beryllium, chromium, iron. mercury, nickel, and selenium occurred in the Roanoke River Basin and may be a result of geologic formations or accumulations of bed sediment in lakes and reservoirs. The highest concentrations of cadmium, lead, and thallium were detected in the Chowan River Basin; copper and zinc were reported highest in the Neuse River Basin. Total phosphorus and total ammonia plus organic nitrogen concentrations exceeded the sediment evaluation guidelines in each major river basin, possibly resulting from wastewater inputs and agricultural applications. Exceedances of pesticide guidelines were detected in the upper Neuse River Basin near Falls Lake and in the lower Tar River Basin.