Relating fish health and reproductive metrics to contaminant bioaccumulation at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston coal ash spill site
A 4.1 million m3 coal ash release into the Emory and Clinch rivers in December 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in east Tennessee, USA, prompted a long-term, large-scale biological monitoring effort to determine if there are chronic effects of this spill on resident biota. Because of the magnitude of the ash spill and the potential for exposure to coal ash-associated contaminants [e.g., selenium (Se), arsenic (As), and mercury (Hg)] which are bioaccumulative and may present human and ecological risks, an integrative, bioindicator approach was used. Three species of fish were monitored—bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), redear sunfish (L. microlophus), and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)—at ash-affected and reference sites annually for 5 years following the spill. On the same individual fish, contaminant burdens were measured in various tissues, blood chemistry parameters as metrics of fish health, and various condition and reproduction indices. A multivariate statistical approach was then used to evaluate relationships between contaminant bioaccumulation and fish metrics to assess the chronic, sub-lethal effects of exposure to the complex mixture of coal ash-associated contaminants at and around the ash spill site. This study suggests that while fish tissue concentrations of some ash-associated contaminants are elevated at the spill site, there was no consistent evidence of compromised fish health linked with the spill. Further, although relationships between elevated fillet burdens of ash-associated contaminants and some fish metrics were found, these relationships were not indicative of exposure to coal ash or spill sites. The present study adds to the weight of evidence from prior studies suggesting that fish populations have not incurred significant biological effects from spilled ash at this site: findings that are relevant to the current national discussions on the safe disposal of coal ash waste.
KeywordsCoal-ash Fish Fish health Bioaccumulation Contaminant Arsenic Mercury Selenium
This research was sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle, for the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. Accordingly, the United States Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the United States Government retains a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for United States Government purposes. Special thanks to C. Brandt, J. Smith, K. McCracken, C. Dunn, R. Vitale, K. Abbot, E. Rodgers, B. Rogers, M. Cagley, T. Baker, and N. Carriker.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
This study was funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority. All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest
All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.
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