, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 305-320

First online:

Tidal river sediments in the Washington, D.C. area. I. Distribution and sources of trace metals

  • David J. VelinskyAffiliated withInterstate Comission on the Potomac River Basin
  • , Terry L. WadeAffiliated withGeochemical and Environmental Research Group, Texas A&M University
  • , Christian E. SchlekatAffiliated withMaryland Department of the Environment, Ecological Assessment Division
  • , Beth L. McGeeAffiliated withMaryland Department of the Environment, Ecological Assessment Division
  • , B. J. PresleyAffiliated withDepartment of Oceanography, Texas A&M University

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Thirty-three bottom sediments were collected from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, Tidal Basin, and Washington Ship Channel in June 1991 to define the extent of trace metal contamination and to elucidate source areas of sediment contaminants. In addition, twenty-three sediment samples were collected directly in front of and within major storm and combined sewers that discharge directly to these areas. Trace metals (e.g., Cu, Cr, Cd, Hg, Pb, and Zn) exhibited a wide range in values throughout the study area. Sediment concentrations of Pb ranged from 32.0 μg Pb g−1 to 3,630 μg Pb g−1, Cd from 0.24 μg Cd g−1 to 4.1 μg Cd g−1, and Hg from 0.13 μg Hg g−1 to 9.2 μg Hg g−1, with generally higher concentrations in either outfall or sewer sediments compared to river bottom-sediments. In the Anacostia River, concentration differences among sewer, outfall, and river sediments, along with downriver spatial trends in trace metals suggest that numerous storm and combined swers are major sources of trace metals. Similar results were observed in both the Tidal Basin and Washington Ship Channel. Cadminum and Pb concentrations are higher in specific sewers and outfalls, whereas the distribution of other metals suggests a more diffuse source to the rivers and basins of the area. Cadmium and Pb also exhibited the greatest enrichment throughout the study area, with peak values located in the Anacostia River, near the Washington Navy Yard. Enrichment factors decrease in the order: Cd>Pb>Zn>Hg>Cu>Cr. Between 70% and 96% of sediment-bound Pb and Cd was released from a N2-purged IN HCl leach. On average, ≤40% of total sedimentary Cu was liberated, possibly due to the partial attack of organic components of the sediment. Sediments of the tidal freshwater portion of the Potomac estuary reflect a moderate to highly components area with substantial enrichments of sedimentary Pb, Cd, and Zn. The sediment phase that contains these metals indicates the potential mobility of the sediment-bound metals if they are reworked during either storm events or dredging.