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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Risk to Threatened and Endangered Chinook Salmon in the Lower Columbia River Estuary


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), derived from oil and fuel combustion, are ubiquitous nonpoint source pollutants that can have a number of detrimental effects on fish and wildlife. In this study, we monitored PAH exposure in outmigrant juvenile Chinook salmon from the Lower Columbia River to evaluate the risk that these contaminants might pose to the health and recovery of threatened and endangered salmonids. Juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were collected by beach seine from five sites in the Lower Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the mouth of the estuary (Warrendale, the Willamette–Columbia Confluence, Columbia City, Beaver Army Terminal, and Point Adams) and from a site in the Lower Willamette near downtown Portland (Morrison Street Bridge). Sediment samples were also collected at the same sites. Concentrations of PAHs in sediment samples were relatively low at all sites with average total PAH concentrations <1000 ng/g dry weight (wt.). However, we found PAHs in stomach contents of salmon from all sites at concentrations ranging from <100 to >10,000 ng/g wet wt. Metabolites of low and high molecular-weight PAHs were also detected in bile of salmon from all sites; for metabolites fluorescing at phenanthrene (PHN) wavelengths, concentrations ranged from 1.1 to 6.0 μg/mg bile protein. Levels of PAHs in stomach contents and PAH metabolites in bile were highest in salmon from the Morrison Street Bridge site in Portland and the Willamette-Columbia Confluence, Columbia City, and Beaver Army Terminal sites. Mean PAH concentrations measured in some stomach content samples from the Columbia City, Beaver Army Terminal, and Morrison Street Bridge sites were near the threshold concentration (approximately 7200–7600 ng/g wet wt.) associated with variability and immune dysfunction in juvenile salmonids (Meador et al., Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:2364–2376, 2006; Bravo et al., Environ Toxicol Chem 30:704–714, 2011). Mean levels of biliary fluorescent aromatic compounds (FACs)-PHN in juvenile Chinook collected at the Morrison Street Bridge site in Portland, at the Confluence and Columbia City sites, and at the Beaver Army Terminal site were at or above a threshold effect concentration of 2 μg/mg protein for FACs-PHN linked to growth impairment, altered energetics, and reproductive effects (Meador et al., Environ Toxicol Chem 27(4):845–853, 2008). These findings suggest that PAHs in the food chain are a potential source of injury to juvenile salmon in the Lower Columbia and Lower Willamette rivers.

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Many thanks to Richard Boyer, Ron Pearce, Catherine Sloan, Jon Buzitis, Peggy Krahn, and Don Brown for chemical analyses and technical advice and to the LRECP and the Bonneville Power Administration for financial support. These data were collected in conjunction with the LRECP’s Ecosystem Monitoring Program.

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Correspondence to Gladys K. Yanagida.

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Yanagida, G.K., Anulacion, B.F., Bolton, J.L. et al. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Risk to Threatened and Endangered Chinook Salmon in the Lower Columbia River Estuary. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 62, 282–295 (2012).

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  • PAHs
  • Stomach Content
  • Perylene
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Juvenile Salmon