Contaminants in fish tissues from AOCs in New York State: The Niagara River AOC

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DEC collaborators collect fish from a Niagara River tributary using an electrofishing boat The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and Department of Health (NYSDOH), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are gathering data on chemical contaminants in fish from multiple Areas of Concern (AOCs) in New York State and plan to use this information to evaluate fish cons...

 
DEC collaborators collect fish from a Niagara River tributary using an electrofishing boatDEC collaborators collect fish from a Niagara River tributary using an electrofishing boat

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and Department of Health (NYSDOH), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are gathering data on chemical contaminants in fish from multiple Areas of Concern (AOCs) in New York State and plan to use this information to evaluate fish consumption advisories, which are a critical component of most removal criteria for “Restriction on Fish and Wildlife Consumption” beneficial use impairments (BUI). This second project is being implemented in the Niagara River AOC during summer 2018. It will help identify sources 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 BUI (Restriction on Fish and Wildlife Consumption) is appropriate. Multiple assessments may be required after all remedial actions have been completed to demonstrate decreasing contaminant residues (temporal trends), which is needed by the NYSDOH to reevaluate fish-consumption advisories. 

In the Niagara River AOC, the primary removal criteria for the “Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption” BUI is that “no AOC-specific consumption advisories are in effect”. Currently, the NYSDOH maintains separate fish consumption advisories for the Upper (upstream of Niagara Falls) and Lower (downstream of Niagara Falls) Niagara River (see Table 1 and https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/fish/health_advisories/regional/western.htm). These advisories, however, would only be considered “AOC-specific” if they differ from the advisories of their respective adjacent lakes (Lake Erie for the Upper River and Lake Ontario for the Lower River) – and for the main stem of the river they do not. However, the AOC includes the Buffalo Outer Harbor, which does have specific advisories that are stricter than those of Lake Erie. In addition, some tributaries to the Upper Niagara River that were recently designated as source areas of the AOC also have specific advisories that are stricter than those of Lake Erie. Therefore, the objective of the fish sampling plan summarized herein is to collect and analyze fish tissues primarily from the Outer Harbor area and those designated 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 data (Li, Richter, and Skinner, 2014), and future contaminant data, to determine if any trend in fish tissue contaminant levels is evident and if contaminant levels are sufficiently low to relax the fish consumption advisories in the tributaries and ultimately remove the associated BUI in the Niagara River AOC.

USGS technicians prepare to weigh a common carp during fish processingUSGS technicians prepare to weigh a common carp during fish processing

Fish collections in 2018 will follow the sampling plan of locations (identified by the NYSDEC and NYSDOH) and target species outlined in Table 1. Sampling will be performed by the USGS and NYSDEC Region 9 in June 2018 using boat electrofishing. Sample handling, labelling, preservation, and laboratory procedures are expected to closely follow those outlined in “Quality Assurance Project Plan: Sampling and analysis of contaminants in fish from the Buffalo River Area of Concern”. Currently, the only major difference in analyte groups from the Buffalo River QAPP is the addition of dioxin/furans at the Cayuga Creek sampling location. The list of target species and analyte groups to be assessed at each site will need to be confirmed by all parties.

 This project will fund the USGS for the 3 years to plan, sample fish and tissues in 2018, ship samples to processing laboratories, analyze contaminant residues (via the USGS national water quality laboratory (NWQL) and/or its contractors), conduct data-quality reviews, summarize and analyze data, and prepare and publish a final report (USGS Data Release) of contaminant data from study sites fish in the Niagara River AOC. Once validation of tissue-contaminant data is complete, all tissue data will be uploaded into the USGS National Water-Information System or NWIS (https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis) and flagged as approved. Summaries of the quality assurance data and the tissue-contaminant concentrations from all fish collected in the fives sampling areas will be compiled into a draft USGS Data Release (and made publicly available) during 2020.

 Table 1: The current fish-consumption advisories for Lake Erie and for the Buffalo River (and outer harbor) from the first draft of the NYSDEC QAPP: (see attached figure)

 

Project Location by County

Erie County, NY, Niagara County, NY