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Hydrology-driven chemical loads transported by the Green River to the Lower Duwamish Waterway near Seattle, Washington, 2013–17

November 8, 2018

The sediments in the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site in Seattle, Washington, are contaminated with chemicals including metals such as arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (cPAHs), and dioxins/furans from decades of intense anthropogenic activities. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Ecology, collected new data from 2013 to 2017 to estimate sediment and chemical loads transported by the Green/Duwamish River to the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site (the final 8-kilometer reach of the river) in support of sediment remediation within the site. Chemical loads were calculated as the product of river suspended-sediment loads and suspended sediment-bound chemical concentrations measured at river kilometer 16.7.

Using four different approaches, annual suspended sediment-bound chemical load estimates transported by the river to the Lower Duwamish Waterway were in the range of 1,120–1,470 kilograms arsenic, 2,810–8,200 grams (g) toxic equivalent cPAHs, 205–407 milligrams toxic equivalent dioxins/furans, and 340–1,180 g PCBs. Storm events contributed a disproportionately large amount of the load of anthropogenic organic compounds such as cPAHs (54 percent), dioxins/furans (44 percent), and PCBs (52 percent) as compared to overall time (17 percent).

Chemical concentrations and load estimates often were underestimated using results from unfiltered water analysis only, especially in samples with high suspended-sediment concentrations and for hydrophobic organic chemicals such as cPAHs that prefer to sorb to particulates and are at low concentrations near or below the analytical limits of water methods. For metals and PCBs, the dissolved concentration was relatively low and consistent between sampling events, whereas the suspended sediment-bound chemical concentrations contributed most of the chemical concentration in the water column during periods of high river suspended-sediment concentrations. However, the dissolved fraction, on average, contributed more than one-third of the estimated total chemical load in the river system for arsenic and PCBs, even given the hydrophobic nature of the chemicals. These results suggest that the sum of the chemical concentrations measured on two separate fractions—the particulate fraction and the dissolved fraction—more fully represents the total chemical concentration as compared to analysis of an unfiltered water sample, especially in samples with high suspended-sediment concentrations.

Most of the suspended-sediment load (97 percent) and sediment-bound chemical load (92–94 percent) occurred during the wet winter half of the year from October 15 to April 14. However, the highest sediment-bound chemical concentrations often occurred during short intense storms or “first flush” autumn runoff events during the dry summer half of the year from April 15 to October 14. Because of the highly variable and dynamic river system characteristics (including precipitation, discharge, sediment concentration, and tidal fluctuations), it is critical to characterize the occurrence, frequency, concentrations, and loads during extreme conditions (for example, when the river is affected by storm-derived runoff) rather than time-averaged conditions. These short extreme events have a high potential for acute effects on ecological and human health, and may have a great influence on the effectiveness of the sediment remediation activities that are underway in the Lower Duwamish Waterway.

Publication Year 2018
Title Hydrology-driven chemical loads transported by the Green River to the Lower Duwamish Waterway near Seattle, Washington, 2013–17
DOI 10.3133/sir20185133
Authors Kathleen E. Conn, Robert W. Black, Craig A. Senter, Norman T. Peterson, Ann Vanderpool-Kimura
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5133
Index ID sir20185133
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center