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Evaluation of persistent hydrophobic organic compounds in the Columbia River Basin using semipermeable-membrane devices

January 1, 2001

Persistent hydrophobic organic compounds are of concern in the Columbia River because they have been correlated with adverse effects on wildlife. We analysed samples from nine main-stem and six tributary sites throughout the Columbia River Basin (Washington and Oregon) for polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans, polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, and priority-pollutant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Because these compounds may have important biological consequences at aqueous concentrations well below the detection limits associated with conventional sampling methods, we used semipermeable-membrane devices to sample water and achieved parts-per-quintillion detection limits. All of these compound classes were prevalent within the basin, but concentrations of many analytes were highest in the vicinity of Portland-Vancouver, indicating that the Willamette subbasin-and perhaps the urban area in particular-is an important source of these compounds. Data collected during basin low-flow conditions in 1997 and again during basin high-flow conditions in 1998 indicate that in-stream processes such as dilution by relatively clean inflow, and flow through island hyporheic zones may be important mechanisms for attenuating dissolved concentrations of hydrophobic compounds.