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Columbia River Contaminants and Habitat Characterization: Tracking the Occurrence and Foodweb Effects of Polybrominated Flame Retardants and Endocrine Disrupting Compounds

Contact: Elena Nilsen or Jennifer Morace

 

Osprey

Osprey nesting along the Columbia River eat fish that contain contaminants from urban areas, industries, and agricultural operations. These contaminants are then concentrated in the bodies and eggs of the birds.(Photograph by Anthony Long, Vancouver, Washington)

Background

The Columbia River provides important hydroelectric power generation, valuable recreational and tribal fisheries, extensive recreational areas and scenic beauty, and habitat for wildlife and fish. The lower Columbia River below Bonneville is the largest remaining free-flowing reach not impounded by hydroelectric dams, and is critical to the viability of culturally significant fish populations (anadromous and resident) in the Columbia Basin, as well as a myriad of other aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Fish, wildlife, and human populations along the lower Columbia River are exposed to an ever-growing variety of contaminants as a result of increasing urbanization, industrialization, and agricultural development.  This study is a demonstration project designed to combine the expertise within the USGS disciplines to address how emerging contaminants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) impact fish, osprey, and other wildlife in the basin. (See a video explaining the study [9:31])

The study will investigate transport pathways, chemical fate and effects of PBDEs and EDCs in aquatic media and through several levels of the foodweb in the lower Columbia River. This will require innovative, interdisciplinary technologies and strategies, such as passive sampling, novel analytical methods, endocrine and reproductive biomarkers, cDNA microarrays, and coupling geochemical data to habitat classification and hydrodynamic and sediment transport modeling. The work will be carried out in concert with ongoing efforts by multiple agencies and partnerships to understand impacts of these contaminants on the natural environment, associated species, and human health in the Columbia River Basin.

Filling knowledge gaps associated with the occurrence and bioaccumulation of PBDEs and EDCs will improve the ability of management agencies to evaluate the actions that are the most likely to result in improving lower river and estuarine conditions for salmonids and other organisms. The presence and effects of these emerging contaminants are important issues that have high scientific and public visibility and potentially important implications for people, fish, and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin. By framing the investigation as a conceptual example of an integrated sampling project, our results could be used as a foundation for future efforts to establish a monitoring program for emerging contaminants, indicators of biotic integrity, and/or other issues of concern in the basin.

Video: Emerging Contaminants in the Columbia River
 
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A transcript is available at http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/427.

 

Study Objectives

  1. Assess contaminant concentrations in multiple levels of the foodweb (invertebrates, salmonids, resident fish, osprey) and the environment (sediment and water) in the lower Columbia River Basin.
  2. Determine the biological effects on fish using biomarkers (vitellogenin induction, gonadal histopathology, cDNA microarrays) and relate these to contaminant concentrations measured in the foodweb and environment to the extent possible.
  3. Characterize sampling locations using the Columbia River Estuary Ecosystem Classification System and samples collected for sediment characterization to allow comparisons among sites and to provide context within the Columbia River Basin.
  4. Evaluate the transport of fine-grained sediments and associated contaminants in the system, as possible, by combining the hydrodynamics and sediment transport model (that will be expanded as part of this project), Ecosystem Classification System, and sampling results.
  5. Develop a conceptual example of an integrated sampling project with the future intent of expanding this example into an integrated monitoring strategy.
  6. Produce a synthesis report that provides insight and unique results achieved through an interdisciplinary approach capitalizing on the breadth of expertise of the team members.

Approach

The study will assess emerging contaminant concentrations in aquatic environmental media and biological organisms, and concurrently assess the biological effects of these contaminants using fish biomarkers and bird-blood assays. By comparing these results, we will relate contaminant concentrations to biological effects. We will characterize sampling locations based on a Columbia River ecosystem classification system, and model the transport of fine-grained sediments and associated contaminants. By integrating the contaminant concentration data, biomarker results, modeling results, and classification system, we will provide information about contaminant distributions in the system and contribute to understanding how emerging contaminants are affecting the ecosystem in the lower Columbia River

Our approach is based on the following tasks:

Task A: Assessment of PBDE exposure and effects on ospreys

Task B: Assessment of waterborne PBDE and EDC concentrations using passive samplers

Task C: Compound-specific analysis of PBDE and EDC concentrations in invertebrates, salmonids and resident fish

Task D: Biomarker assessment of PBDE and EDC exposure and effects in resident fish

Task E: Assessment of cDNA microarray technology for understanding effects of PBDE and EDC exposure on resident fish

Task F: Sediment characterization to support task G and assess the role of benthic communities in the transport of contaminants to extent possible

Task G: Modeling sediment transport and contaminant dispersal in the lower Columbia River and estuary

Task H: Integration of Tasks A-G

Principal Investigators

Study Synopsis and Flow Chart

Publications

Wastewater Dilution Index Partially Explains Observed Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Flame Retardant Concentrations in Osprey Eggs from Columbia River Basin, 2008–2009, by Charles J. Henny, Robert A. Grove, James L. Kaiser, Branden L. Johnson, Chad V. Furl, and Robert J. Letcher. Published in Ecotoxicology, June, 2011, v. 20, no. 4.

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