, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 334–344

Tidal river sediments in the Washington, D.C. area. III. Biological effects associated with sediment contamination


  • Christian E. Schlekat
    • Ecological Assessment DivisionMaryland Department of the Environment
  • Beth L. McGee
    • Ecological Assessment DivisionMaryland Department of the Environment
  • Eli Reinharz
    • Ecological Assessment DivisionMaryland Department of the Environment
  • David J. Velinsky
    • Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
  • Terry L. Wade
    • Geochemical and Environmental Research GroupTexas A & M University

DOI: 10.2307/1352667

Cite this article as:
Schlekat, C.E., McGee, B.L., Reinharz, E. et al. Estuaries (1994) 17: 334. doi:10.2307/1352667


Sediment toxicity and benthic macroinvertebrate community structure were measured as one component of a study cohceived to determine the distribution and effect of sediment contamination in tidal freshwater portions of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers in the Washington, D.C., area. Samples were collected at 15 sites. Analyses included a partial life cycle (28 d) whole sediment test using the amphipod Hyalella azteca (Talitridae) and an assessment of benthic community structure. Survival and growth (as estimated by amphipod length) were experimental endopoints for the toxicity test. Significant mortality was observed in 5 of 10 sites in the lower Anacostia River basin and at the main channel Potomac River site. Sublethal toxicity, as measured by inhibition of amphipod growth, was not observed. Toxicity test results were in general agreement with synoptically measured sediment contaminant concentrations. Porewater total ammonia (NH3+NH4+) appears to be responsible for the toxicity of sediments from the Potomac River, while correlation analysis and simultaneously extracted metals: acid volatile sulfide (SEM∶AVS) results suggest that the toxicity associated with Anacostia River sediments was due to organic compounds. Twenty-eight macroinvertebrate taxa were identified among all sites, with richness varying from 5 to 17 taxa per site. Groups of benthic assemblages identified by group-average cluster analysis exhibited variable agreement with sediment chemical and sediment toxicity results. Integration of toxicological, chemical, and ecological components suggests that adverse environmental effects manifest in the lower Anacostia River benthos result from chemical contamination of sediment.

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© Estuarine Research Federation 1994