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A chronicle of organochlorine contamination in Clear Creek, Galveston and Harris Counties, Texas, 1960-2002, as recorded in sediment cores

April 1, 2004

Clear Creek flows through the Texas Coastal Plain from its headwaters southeast of Houston, Texas, to Clear Lake, which empties into Galveston Bay. Segments of Clear Creek were on the State of Texas 303(d) list for 1998, 1999, and 2000 as a result of a fish consumption advisory issued by the Texas Department of Health. One of the contaminants for which the fish consumption advisory was issued is the organochlorine pesticide chlordane. Chlordane is a hydrophobic (“waterfearing”) contaminant; that is, it adsorbs to sediment at concentrations much greater than those found in water. The study described here sought to answer three questions:

  • Does chlordane occur in Clear Creek sediments at present?
  • Is there current loading of chlordane to Clear Creek?
  • How has occurrence of chlordane in Clear Creek changed over time?

To answer these questions, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), collected and analyzed sediment cores from Clear Creek (fig. 1). Sediment cores sometimes can be used to reconstruct historical trends in concentrations of hydrophobic contaminants (Eisenreich and others, 1989; Van Metre and others, 1997). Cores were collected from five ponds connected to Clear Creek but out of the main channel (fig. 1). Cesium-137 (137Cs) was analyzed in the cores to determine if the sediments in the cores were undisturbed and if the cores reached sediment predating 1964. The two cores that appeared most undisturbed on the basis of 137Cs profiles (see sidebar, p. 2) were further subsampled and additional samples analyzed for 137Cs, organic carbon, selected organochlorine pesticides (including chlordane), and total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB).

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