, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 286-298

Occurrence of Organic Wastewater and Other Contaminants in Cave Streams in Northeastern Oklahoma and Northwestern Arkansas

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Abstract

The prevalence of organic wastewater compounds in surface waters of the United States has been reported in a number of recent studies. In karstic areas, surface contaminants might be transported to groundwater and, ultimately, cave ecosystems, where they might impact resident biota. In this study, polar organic chemical integrative samplers (POCISs) and semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs) were deployed in six caves and two surface-water sites located within the Ozark Plateau of northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas in order to detect potential chemical contaminants in these systems. All caves sampled were known to contain populations of the threatened Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae). The surface-water site in Oklahoma was downstream from the outfall of a municipal wastewater treatment plant and a previous study indicated a hydrologic link between this stream and one of the caves. A total of 83 chemicals were detected in the POCIS and SPMD extracts from the surface-water and cave sites. Of these, 55 chemicals were detected in the caves. Regardless of the sampler used, more compounds were detected in the Oklahoma surface-water site than in the Arkansas site or the caves. The organic wastewater chemicals with the greatest mass measured in the sampler extracts included sterols (cholesterol and β-sitosterol), plasticizers [diethylhexylphthalate and tris(2-butoxyethyl) phosphate], the herbicide bromacil, and the fragrance indole. Sampler extracts from most of the cave sites did not contain many wastewater contaminants, although extracts from samplers in the Oklahoma surface-water site and the cave hydrologically linked to it had similar levels of diethylhexyphthalate and common detections of carbamazapine, sulfamethoxazole, benzophenone, N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET), and octophenol monoethoxylate. Further evaluation of this system is warranted due to potential ongoing transport of wastewater-associated chemicals into the cave. Halogenated organics found in caves and surface-water sites included brominated flame retardants, organochlorine pesticides (chlordane and nonachlor), and polychlorinated biphenyls. The placement of samplers in the caves (near the cave mouth compared to farther in the system) might have influenced the number of halogenated organics detected due to possible aerial transport of residues. Guano from cave-dwelling bats also might have been a source of some of these chlorinated organics. Seven-day survival and growth bioassays with fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) exposed to samples of cave water indicated initial toxicity in water from two of the caves, but these effects were transient, with no toxicity observed in follow-up tests.