Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

An assessment of the relation between metal contaminated sediment and freshwater mussel populations in the Big River, Missouri

March 17, 2023

The Big River in southeast Missouri drains the largest historical lead mining area in the United States. Ongoing releases of metal contaminated sediments into this river are well documented and are suspected of suppressing freshwater mussel populations. We characterized the spatial extent of metal contaminated sediments and evaluated its relationship with mussel populations in the Big River. Mussels and sediments were collected at 34 sites with potential metal effects and 3 reference sites. Analysis of sediment samples showed that lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) concentrations were 1.5 to 65 times greater than background concentrations in the reach extending 168 km downstream from Pb mining releases. Mussel abundance decreased acutely downstream from these releases where sediment Pb concentrations were highest and increased gradually as Pb sediment concentrations attenuated downstream. We compared current species richness with historical survey data from three reference rivers with similar physical habitat characteristics and human effects, but without Pb-contaminated sediment. Big River species richness was on average about one-half that expected based on reference stream populations and was 70–75 % lower in reaches with high median Pb concentrations. Sediment Zn and cadmium, and particularly Pb, had significant negative correlations with species richness and abundance. The association of sediment Pb concentrations with mussel community metrics in otherwise high-quality habitat indicates that Pb toxicity is likely responsible for depressed mussel populations observed within the Big River. We used concentration-response regressions of mussel density verses sediment Pb to determine that the Big River mussel community is adversely affected when sediment Pb concentrations are above 166 ppm, the concentration associated with 50 % decreases in mussel density. Based on this assessment of metals concentrations sediment and mussel fauna, our findings indicate that sediment in approximately 140 km of the Big River with suitable habitat has a toxic effect to mussels.

Publication Year 2023
Title An assessment of the relation between metal contaminated sediment and freshwater mussel populations in the Big River, Missouri
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162743
Authors Andrew D Roberts, John M. Besser, Josh Hundley, Dave Mosby, Amanda E. Rosenberger, Kristen L. Bouska, Bryan Simmons, Stephen E. McMurray, Scott Faiman, Leslie Lueckenhoff
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70252795
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center; Coop Res Unit Atlanta; Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center