Areas of Concern: Niagara River

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists participated in several projects supporting work in the Niagara River Area of Concern including: 1) Evaluating toxicity in Benthos Sediment, 2) Tracking PCB Sources in the AOC, and Identifying Source Areas Contributing to Contaminants Found in Fish Tissue. 

Evaluating Toxicity in Benthos Sediment

USGS worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to assess macroinvertebrate community conditions and sediment toxicity at locations where the USACE completed a fine-sediment substrate chemistry characterization of the upper Niagara River (near Buffalo, NY). USGS selected 60 of these locations across a range of sediment chemistry to assess macroinvertebrate community condition and sediment toxicity. The primary objectives of this work are to 1) establish a relationship between sediment chemistry and macroinvertebrate community condition to determine if toxic sediments are harming these communities, 2) identify priority areas for potential remediation, and 3) determine if the "Degradation of Benthos" Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) designation is still warranted in the Niagara River AOC. The first objective is particularly important in this project because unlike similar assessments in other AOCs, there are no comparable reference areas to the Niagara River – thus reference locations will be defined as those within the AOC where sediment contamination is negligible.

Seiving sediment for macroinvertebrate community assessment

Seiving sediment for macroinvertebrate community assessment.

(Public domain.)

Subsampling homogenized sediment for toxicity testing

Subsampling homogenized sediment for toxicity testing.

(Public domain.)

Contributions:

  • The information collected through this effort will be used to prioritize future remedial efforts. Additionally, future post-remediation sampling efforts assessing the benthos BUI will be able to compare against this baseline dataset.

Partners:

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

 

Tracking PCB Sources in the AOC

To help pinpoint likely sources of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the USGS and New York State Department of Environmental Concern (NYSDEC) are assessing PCB concentrations in water from as many as 12 sites in each of three tributaries to the Niagara River AOC where high concentrations of (PCBs) have been found in fish tissue samples in the AOC. The three tributaries being assessed include: Tonawanda Creek, Two Mile Creek, and Rattlesnake Creek (study reaches shown in Figure 1 and listed in Table 1). High PCB concentrations have also been found in mussel tissues during in situ experiments in the latter two creeks. PCBs have also been detected in sediments from many locations but were generally lower than expected given the elevated concentrations observed recently in fish and mussel tissues from selected sites in the three tributaries. Local sources of PCB contamination in each tributary generally remain unknown, therefore probable sources need to be identified to develop appropriate management and (or) remediation actions. The main objective of this study is to gather data needed to help isolate/identify specific sources of PCBs in the three tributaries, work with partners to develop remediations, reduce PCB contamination and, along with other lines of evidence, determine if associated BUIs in the Niagara River AOC could be removed in the near or long term.

Study site for SPMD sampler in a tributary to the Niagara River

Study site for SPMD sampler in a tributary to the Niagara River.

(Public domain.)

SPMD Sampler in river

SPMD sampler on concrete block in a tributary to the Niagara River.

(Public domain.)

Contributions:

  • Collected information will be used to direct efforts to identify sources areas for PCBs, conduct remediations, reduce PCB contamination and, along with other lines of evidence, determine if associated BUIs in the Niagara River AOC could be removed in the near or long term.

Partners:

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)

 

Identifying Source Areas Contributing to Contaminants Found in Fish Tissue

USGS worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New York State Department of Environmental Concern (NYSDEC) to help identify source areas for contaminants in fish and to determine if current fish-consumption advisories in this AOC are unique, if they might be modified, and if the current “Fish and Wildlife Consumption” Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) designation is appropriate. The primary removal criteria for the “Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption” BUI is that “no AOC-specific consumption advisories are in effect”. Some tributaries to the Upper Niagara River were recently designated as source areas of the AOC and have specific advisories that are stricter than those of Lake Erie.  Fish collections were done to obtain and analyze fish tissues primarily from the Buffalo Outer Harbor and tributaries to the Upper Niagara River for which fish consumption advisories are stricter than those for Lake Erie. The resulting data will be used by the NYSDOH, in conjunction with 2010-2012 NYSDEC data, and future fish-contaminant information, to determine if any trends in fish tissue contaminant levels are evident and if contaminant levels are sufficiently low enough to relax the fish consumption advisories in the tributaries and ultimately remove the associated BUI in the Niagara River AOC.

Data collected by this study characterized fish-tissue contaminant residues which is needed to identify specific areas in the AOC and source areas that may require further remediation (cleanup) and define temporal trends and changes in contaminant concentrations in fish from the Niagara River AOC. This data forms the foundation needed to reassess fish-consumption advisories that are a key element of the “Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption” BUI removal criteria.

NYSDEC electrofishing boat sampling fish in the Little Niagara River

NYSDEC electrofishing boat sampling fish in the Little Niagara River, 2018.

(Public domain.)

Carp collected by electroshocking on a tributary to the Niagara River

Carp collected by electroshocking on a tributary to the Niagara River, 2018.

(Public domain.)

Publications:

U.S. Geological Survey, 2018, Contaminants in fish tissues from AOCs in New York State: The Niagara River AOC: Data Release, U.S. Geological Survey, https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/5cc32c21e4b09b8c0b75c427.

Contributions:

  • Data collected by this study characterized fish-tissue contaminant residues which is needed to identify specific areas in the AOC and source areas that may require further remediation (cleanup) and define temporal trends and changes in contaminant concentrations in fish from the Niagara River AOC. This data forms the foundation needed to reassess fish-consumption advisories that are a key element of the “Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption” BUI removal criteria.

Partners:

  • USFWS (A. Roe) and NYSDEC provided significant field support during summer-2018 fish collections.
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)