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Research plan and preliminary results: A field research site for emerging contaminants in Iowa

January 1, 2006

Research has recently documented the prevalence of a wide variety of pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants (ECs) in streams across the United States. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have been found to be an important source and collection point of ECs to streams as many ECs are incompletely removed during treatment. To investigate the complex in-stream processes (e.g., dilution, sorption, degradation, dispersion, etc.) that can affect ECs following their input from a WWTP and determining if such input is having an effect on the aquatic ecosystem requires the integration of multi-disciplinary efforts at a carefully selected field site. Preliminary work has identified an 8-km reach of Fourmile Creek in central Iowa as an ideal research site to investigate such important research questions pertaining to ECs. Unique aspects of Fourmile Creek included: (1) it single source effluent-dominated stream, (2) background data document the input of a wide variety of ECs from WWTP discharge, (3) small basin size, (4) relatively simple flow system, (5) background data suggest that undefined processes are taking place decreasing the level of select ECs during stream transport, (6) the WWTP uses a treatment technology (activated sludge) typical of many towns in Iowa and the United States (7) a hydrogeologic setting of a low-gradient, small stream (average discharge less than 1.41 m³/s) in glacial drift is typical of many areas in Iowa and across the Midwest, and (8) the existence of a low-head clam approximately 2 km upstream of the WWTP outfall allowing more accurate "above WWTP" and "below WWTP" comparisons in aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, the WWTP is scheduled to close by 2011 providing a unique opportunity to determine how stream hydrology, water chemistry and aquatic biota react to the removal of the primary source of flow and ECs in this system. This will allow a novel "before" and "after" assessment not previously available in EC research. Research to date at the site has included installation of a streamflow gauging station, dye-tracing tests (to determine water travel times), Lagrangian water-quality sampling at two flow/water temperature regimes, and sampling for ECs in bed sediment. Selected fish have been collected for analysis and identification. In addition, basic fish community and fish health assessment for different seasons and spawning conditions are being analyzed. The research "framework" is unique at Fourmile Creek for investigating the important question of how ECs are transported through the environment and if the presence of such compounds is having a deleterious effect on aquatic ecosystems.

Publication Year 2006
Title Research plan and preliminary results: A field research site for emerging contaminants in Iowa
Authors Douglas J. Schnoebelen, Dana W. Kolpin, Larry B. Barber, Edward T. Furlong, Michael Meyer, M. Skopec
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science
Index ID 70162941
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Iowa Water Science Center; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program