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A conceptual site model of contaminant transport pathways from the Bremerton Naval Complex to Sinclair Inlet, Washington, 2011–21

March 26, 2024

Historical activities on the Bremerton Naval Complex (BNC) in Puget Sound, Washington, have resulted in Sinclair Inlet sediments with elevated concentrations of contaminants, including organic contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls and trace elements including mercury. Six U.S. Geological Survey–U.S. Navy datasets have been collected since the last major assessment, in 2013, of soil and groundwater contaminant transport pathways and mercury loading estimates from the BNC to Sinclair Inlet. These include:

  1. mercury isotope analysis to support sourcing of mercury in Sinclair Inlet;
  2. mercury sampling within the dry dock systems;
  3. nearshore thermal surveys to identify potential groundwater discharge locations to Sinclair Inlet;
  4. time-series monitoring in nearshore wells to understand the inland extent and dynamics of the tidal mixing zone;
  5. tidal studies of mercury in nearshore monitoring wells in an area of contaminated fill material called Site 1; and
  6. a spatial survey of trace elements and other parameters in nearshore monitoring wells, pore water, seeps, surface water, and sediment along unwalled shorelines in the western part of the BNC.

The results were incorporated into an updated Conceptual Site Model and used to update contaminant load estimates from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet. The results from these studies provide data to the U.S. Navy to support prioritization of on-going remediation actions to manage contamination on the BNC that reduce potential impacts to Sinclair Inlet sediment, surface water, and fish and shellfish tissue.

Mercury isotope analysis of surface sediments and particulate material indicated that a similar industrial mercury profile is present throughout Puget Sound, including terrestrial and marine BNC samples and in other Sinclair Inlet sediments and persists across regions with low and elevated mercury concentrations. Two sources of mercury at the BNC are Sites 1 and 2 subsurface soils/fill material, with total mercury concentrations in particulates collected from the bottom of monitoring wells drilled in these materials ranging from 18,000 to 44,000 nanograms per gram (as compared to the Washington State Marine Sediment Cleanup Screening Level of 590 nanograms per gram).

Contaminants are transported from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet via three primary pathways, (1) stormwater outfalls, (2) dry dock discharges, and (3) direct discharge along unwalled shorelines.

Previous loading estimates (based on filtered total mercury) ranked stormwater outfalls, particularly outfall PSNS015 in Site 2 soils, as the largest soil and groundwater contaminant transport pathway from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet. Updated loading estimates in this report suggest that the dry dock systems may be a larger pathway of mercury from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet than previously thought, within the same order of magnitude as the PSNS015 storm-drain system.

Trace-element loads via direct shoreline discharge are difficult to estimate due to the large and dynamic tidal mixing zone of groundwater and seawater in the nearshore along unwalled shorelines. However, current best estimated ranges suggest that direct shoreline discharge is one of the three main pathways and may contribute smaller mercury loads than the stormwater and the dry dock systems. Along unwalled shorelines, direct groundwater discharge of terrestrial contaminants may be less important than recirculating seawater in the nearshore mixing zone that can extract contaminants from nearshore subsurface material. Total estimated mercury loads from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet range from approximately 40 to 200 grams of filtered total mercury per year and a minimum of 70–350 grams of particulate total mercury per year, for a minimum total of 110–525 grams of whole (filtered plus particulate) total mercury per year. Data gaps are identified that, if filled, would further refine the Conceptual Site Model and contaminant loading estimates from the terrestrial BNC to Sinclair Inlet.

Publication Year 2024
Title A conceptual site model of contaminant transport pathways from the Bremerton Naval Complex to Sinclair Inlet, Washington, 2011–21
DOI 10.3133/sir20245011
Authors Kathleen E. Conn, Sarah E. Janssen, Chad C. Opatz, Valerie A.L. Bright
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2024-5011
Index ID sir20245011
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center; Upper Midwest Water Science Center