Tidal Creek and Salt Marsh Sediments in South Carolina Coastal Estuaries: II. Distribution of Organic Contaminants
Twenty-eight tidal creeks along the South Carolina coast were sampled during the summer of 1995 to determine the levels of sediment contamination including organic chemicals (i.e., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], and DDT and its metabolites) associated with different types and varying levels of watershed development (i.e., industrial/urban, suburban, forested, and salt marsh). Organic analysis utilized high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with fluorescence detection and capillary gas chromatography–ion trap mass spectrometry (GC-ITMS) for PAHs, and gas chromatography with electron capture detection (GC-ECD) for pesticides and PCBs. Results indicated that creeks with industrial/urban watersheds had significantly higher concentrations of PAHs, PCBs, and DDT compared with creeks with suburban and forested (reference) watersheds. The suburban watershed class of creeks had concentrations of half the PAH analytes and the total PCBs which exceeded the concentrations found in the forested watershed class of creeks. The spatial distribution of organic contaminants was evaluated in four of these tidal creek–salt marsh systems representing urban/industrial, suburban, and forested watersheds, from the creek channel to the adjacent uplands. The distribution of organic contaminants within each representative creek was not concordant with the total organic carbon or the clay content of the sediment. The representative industrial/urban creek-marsh system, Diesel Creek, had the highest concentration of PAHs in the creek channel and the highest concentration of PCBs and DDT on the marsh surface, primarily in the upper portion of the system. The representative suburban creek-marsh system, Shem Creek, had elevated levels of both PAHs and PCBs throughout the entire system. This system also had one site with a total PAH concentration of 324,000 ppb and a total DDT concentration that was 20–100 times higher than the other sites. One of the representative forested creek-marsh systems, Rathall Creek, had low levels of the three organic contaminants except for one sampling site that had PAH concentrations a factor of 10 higher than the other sites. The other representative forested creek-marsh system, Long Creek, had low levels of PAHs and PCBs, but elevated levels of DDT were observed, particularly in the upper portion on the marsh surface. The results of this study suggest that (1) anthropogenic alteration of the land cover in the watersheds of tidal creek–salt marsh systems may increase the organic contaminant loadings in the sediment, and (2) tidal creek–salt marsh sediments, particularly in the creek channel, are repositories and potentially conduits of organic contaminants from the upland environment to the deeper estuarine areas.