Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 76, Issue 3, pp 311–352

A Ten Year Summary of Concurrent Ambient Water Column and Sediment Toxicity Tests in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: 1990–1999


    • Agricultural Experiment Station, Wye Research and Education CenterUniversity of Maryland System
  • Ronald D. Anderson
    • Agricultural Experiment Station, Wye Research and Education CenterUniversity of Maryland System
  • Raymond W. Alden III
    • College of SciencesUniversity of Nevada Las Vegas

DOI: 10.1023/A:1015577829692

Cite this article as:
Hall, L.W., Anderson, R.D. & Alden III, R.W. Environ Monit Assess (2002) 76: 311. doi:10.1023/A:1015577829692


The goal of this study was to identify the relative toxicity ofambient areas in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by using a suiteof concurrent water column and sediment toxicity tests at seventy-five ambient stations in 20 Chesapeake Bay rivers from1990 through 1999. Spatial and temporal variability was examinedat selected locations throughout the 10 yr study. Inorganicand organic contaminants were evaluated in ambient water andsediment concurrently with water column and sediment tests toassess possible causes of toxicity although absolute causalitycan not be established. Multivariate statistical analysis wasused to develop a multiple endpoint toxicity index (TOX-INDEX) at each station for both water column and sediment toxicity data. Water column tests from the 10 yr testing period showed that49% of the time, some degree of toxicity was reported. The mosttoxic sites based on water column results were located inurbanized areas such as the Anacostia River, Elizabeth River andthe Middle River. Water quality criteria for copper, lead,mercury, nickel and zinc were exceeded at one or more of thesesites. Water column toxicity was also reported in localizedareas of the South and Chester Rivers. Both spatial and temporalvariability was reported from the suite of water column toxicitytests. Some degree of sediment toxicity was reported from 62% of the tests conducted during the ten year period. The ElizabethRiver and Baltimore Harbor stations were reported as the most toxic areas based on sediment results.Sediment toxicity guidelines were exceeded for one or more of thefollowing metals at these two locations: arsenic, cadmium,chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc. At the Elizabeth Riverstations nine of sixteen semi-volatile organics and two of sevenpesticides measured exceeded the ER-M values in 1990. Ambientsediment toxicity tests in the Elizabeth River in 1996 showedreduced toxicity. Various semi-volatile organics exceeded the ER-M values at a number of Baltimore Harbor sites; pyrene anddibenzo(a,h)anthracene were particularly high at one of thestations (Northwest Harbor). Localized sediment toxicity was alsoreported in the Chester, James, Magothy, Rappahannock, andPotomac Rivers but the link with contaminants was not determined.Both spatial and temporal variability was less for sedimenttoxicity data when compared with water column toxicity data. Acomparison of water column and sediment toxicity data for thevarious stations over the 10 yr study showed that approximatelyhalf the time agreement occurred (either both suite of testsshowed toxicity or neither suite of tests showed toxicity).

ambient water column and sediment toxicity testscontaminantsChesapeake Bay watershed

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002