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Evaluation of legacy and emerging organic chemicals using passive sampling devices on the North Branch Au Sable River near Lovells, Michigan, June 2018

February 12, 2020

The North Branch Au Sable River, located in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan near Lovells, Michigan, has historically been known for its brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and its status as a blue ribbon trout stream; however, within the past few decades, there has been a decline in fish population. The objectives of this study were to assess if concentrations of organic chemicals were present in quantities in the North Branch Au Sable River that may potentially harm aquatic species and to establish current baseline concentrations of organic chemicals against which future data can be compared. Passive sampling technology was used to collect information on the concentration, occurrence, transport, and fate of organic chemicals; these samplers absorb dissolved organic chemicals in the river over several weeks, as the timing and intensity of pesticide applications and the frequency of storm events and irrigation can cause fluctuations in organic chemical loading to surface waters. The chemical classes investigated as part of this study included pesticides (both legacy [organochlorine] and current use), polychlorinated biphenyls, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Passive samplers, including semipermeable membrane devices and polar organic chemical integrative samplers, were deployed at four locations along the North Branch Au Sable River, near Lovells, Mich., in June 2018 for a total of 28 days. Several organic chemicals were detected in the North Branch Au Sable River at low concentrations. Organic chemicals were detected at every sampling location on the North Branch Au Sable River; however, not all chemicals were detected at every location. The highest number of organic chemicals were detected at the most downstream sampling site (North Branch Au Sable River at Kellogg's Bridge), and the lowest number of organic chemicals were detected at the next site upstream (North Branch Au Sable River at Twin Bridge Road). The organic contaminants most frequently detected at all sampling locations include the legacy pesticides pentachloroanisole, trans-chlordane, p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, and p,p'-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane; the PBDE PBDE-28; and the PAHs 2-methylphenanthrene and perylene.

Organic chemical concentrations detected on the North Branch Au Sable River were below almost all water-quality benchmarks included in this report. However, low concentrations of organic chemicals may still pose a risk to aquatic organisms and throughout the trophic hierarchy because of low-dose additive and synergistic mixture effects, transgenerational effects, and a lack of established water-quality benchmarks for many organic chemicals. This report provides data on the current (2018) state of the North Branch Au Sable River and provided a baseline of organic contaminant data against which future data on the North Branch Au Sable River can be evaluated.

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