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Exposure and potential effects of pesticides and pharmaceuticals in protected streams of the US National Park Service southeast Region

December 13, 2019

Globally protected areas offer refugia for a broad range of taxa including threatened and endangered species. The United States National Park Service (NPS) manages public lands to preserve biodiversity, but increasing park visitation and development of surrounding landscapes increase exposure to and effects from bioactive contaminants. The risk (exposure and hazard) to NPS protected-stream ecosystems within the highly urbanized southeast region (SER) from bioactive contaminants was assessed in five systems based on 334 pesticide and pharmaceutical analytes in water and 119 pesticides in sediment. Contaminant mixtures were common across all sampled systems, with approximately 24% of the unique analytes (80/334) detected at least once and 15% (49/334) detected in half of the surface-water samples. Pharmaceuticals were observed more frequently than pesticides, consistent with riparian buffers and concomitant spatial separation from non-point pesticide sources in four of the systems. To extrapolate exposure data to biological effects space, site specific cumulative exposure-activity ratios (ΣEAR) were calculated for detected surface-water contaminants with available ToxCast data; common exceedances of a 0.001 ΣEAR effects-screening threshold raise concerns for molecular toxicity and possible, sub-lethal effects to non-target, aquatic vertebrates. The results illustrate the need for continued management of protected resources to reduce contaminant exposure and preserve habitat quality, including prioritization of conservation practices (riparian buffers) near stream corridors and increased engagement with upstream/up-gradient property owners and municipal wastewater facilities.