Magnitude and Extent of Contaminated Sediment and Toxicity in Chesapeake Bay

Hartwell, S. Ian and Hameedi, Jawed (2007) Magnitude and Extent of Contaminated Sediment and Toxicity in Chesapeake Bay. Silver Spring, MD, NOAA/NOS/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science/Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, (NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS, 47)

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INTRODUCTION: This report summarizes the results of NOAA's sediment toxicity, chemistry, and benthic community studies in the Chesapeake Bay estuary. As part of the National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program, NOAA has conducted studies to determine the spatial extent and severity of chemical contamination and associated adverse biological effects in coastal bays and estuaries of the United States since 1991. Sediment contamination in U.S. coastal areas is a major environmental issue because of its potential toxic effects on biological resources and often, indirectly, on human health. Thus, characterizing and delineating areas of sediment contamination and toxicity and demonstrating their effect(s) on benthic living resources are viewed as important goals of coastal resource management. Benthic community studies have a history of use in regional estuarine monitoring programs and have been shown to be an effective indicator for describing the extent and magnitude of pollution impacts in estuarine ecosystems, as well as for assessing the effectiveness of management actions. Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuarine system in the United States. Including tidal tributaries, the Bay has approximately 18,694 km of shoreline (more than the entire US West Coast). The watershed is over 165,000 km2 (64,000 miles2), and includes portions of six states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia. The population of the watershed exceeds 15 million people. There are 150 rivers and streams in the Chesapeake drainage basin. Within the watershed, five major rivers - the Susquehanna, Potomac, Rappahannock, York and James - provide almost 90% of the freshwater to the Bay. The Bay receives an equal volume of water from the Atlantic Ocean. In the upper Bay and tributaries, sediments are fine-grained silts and clays. Sediments in the middle Bay are mostly made of silts and clays derived from shoreline erosion. In the lower Bay, by contrast, the sediments are sandy. These particles come from shore erosion and inputs from the Atlantic Ocean. The introduction of European-style agriculture and large scale clearing of the watershed produced massive shifts in sediment dynamics of the Bay watershed. As early as the mid 1700s, some navigable rivers were filled in by sediment and sedimentation caused several colonial seaports to become landlocked. Toxic contaminants enter the Bay via atmospheric deposition, dissolved and particulate runoff from the watershed or direct discharge. While contaminants enter the Bay from several sources, sediments accumulate many toxic contaminants and thus reveal the status of input for these constituents. In the watershed, loading estimates indicate that the major sources of contaminants are point sources, stormwater runoff, atmospheric deposition, and spills. Point sources and urban runoff in the Bay proper contribute large quantities of contaminants. Pesticide inputs to the Bay have not been quantified. Baltimore Harbor and the Elizabeth River remain among the most contaminated areas in the Unites States. In the mainstem, deep sediment core analyses indicate that sediment accumulation rates are 2-10 times higher in the northern Bay than in the middle and lower Bay, and that sedimentation rates are 2-10 times higher than before European settlement throughout the Bay (NOAA 1998). The core samples show a decline in selected PAH compounds over the past several decades, but absolute concentrations are still 1 to 2 orders of magnitude above 'pristine' conditions. Core data also indicate that concentrations of PAHs, PCBs and, organochlorine pesticides do not demonstrate consistent trends over 25 years, but remain 10 times lower than sediments in the tributaries. In contrast, tri-butyl-tin (TBT) concentrations in the deep cores have declined significantly since it=s use was severely restricted. (PDF contains 241 pages)

Item Type: Monograph or Serial Issue
Title: Magnitude and Extent of Contaminated Sediment and Toxicity in Chesapeake Bay
Personal Creator/Author:
Hartwell, S.
Series Name: NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS
Number: 47
Date: 2007
Publisher: NOAA/NOS/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science/Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment
Place of Publication: Silver Spring, MD
Issuing Agency: United States National Ocean Service
Subjects: Chemistry
Item ID: 2115
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 19 May 2009 19:26
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2014 20:18

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