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Sediment and chemical contaminant loads in tributaries to the Anacostia River, Washington, District of Columbia, 2016–17

February 28, 2020

A study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the Washington, D.C., Department of Energy & Environment to estimate the loads of suspended-sediment-bound chemical compounds in five gaged tributaries and four ungaged tributaries of the Anacostia River (known locally as “Lower Anacostia River”) in Washington, D.C. Tributaries whose discharge is measured by the USGS are the Northeast and Northwest Branches of the Anacostia River, referred to in this report as “Northeast Branch” (NEB) and “Northwest Branch” (NWB), respectively; Watts Branch (WB); and Hickey Run (HR). A USGS streamflow-gaging station was established in 2016 on Beaverdam Creek (known locally as “Lower Beaverdam Creek” [LBDC]) to support this study. The ungaged streams studied include Nash Run; Pope Branch; an unnamed stream at Fort DuPont, referred to in this report as “Fort DuPont Creek”; and an unnamed stream at Fort Stanton, referred to in this report as “Fort Stanton Creek.” The gaged streams were sampled during four to five storms and two low-flow events during January, March, May, and July 2017. The ungaged streams were sampled during one storm and one low-flow event during July 2017. Storm sampling involved collecting large-volume (60- to 70-liter) composite samples, then removing sediment by filtration in the laboratory. Low-flow samples were obtained by filtering streamwater directly in the field. Continuously recording data sondes were deployed throughout the study to measure turbidity and other water-quality characteristics. During sampling, multiple discrete samples of streamwater were collected to determine suspended-sediment concentration (SSC) and particulate organic carbon (POC) concentration. Shortly after each storm, bed sediment was collected for chemical analysis.

Sediment samples were analyzed for 209 polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners; 35 polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds, including 20 nonalkylated and 15 alkylated species; and 20 organochlorine pesticide (OP) compounds. Sediment from one storm was analyzed for 23 metals.

Relations were developed among turbidity, discharge, and measured SSC by using multiple linear regression of log-transformed data. These relations were used to estimate SSC from continuous records of discharge and turbidity and were subsequently used to estimate sediment loads for the 2017 calendar year. USGS continuous records of turbidity in NEB, NWB, Watts Branch, and Hickey Run were available for 2013–17, which allowed sediment loads to be calculated for these years. Sediment loads for the ungaged streams were estimated by using loads measured in Watts Branch adjusted on the basis of stream-basin areas.

Sediment loads for 2017 total 3.10×107 kilograms (kg), with 1.02×107 kg (33 percent of total) from the NEB, 1.55×107 kg (50 percent) from the NWB, 4.45×106 kg (14 percent) from LBDC, 5.62×105 kg (2 percent) from Watts Branch, and 2.82×105 kg (1 percent) from Hickey Run. Sediment yields were highest from NWB and LBDC (3.13×105 kilograms per year per square mile [kg/yr/mi2] and 3.01 kg/yr/mi2, respectively). As a result of gaps in turbidity and discharge data, the load for LBDC reported here was calculated from measurements representing only 88 percent of the year (2017), and thus underestimates the actual load. All other gaged tributaries had datasets covering 100 percent of the year and are considered to fully represent actual loads. Estimated sediment loads for the ungaged streams during 2017 total 3.5×105 kg, with 1.2×105 kg from Nash Run, 6.2×104 kg from Pope Branch, 1.1×105 kg from Fort DuPont Creek, and 5.6×104 kg from Fort Stanton Creek.

Concentrations of PCBs, PAHs, and chlorinated pesticides in streamwater are presented for stormflow and low-flow conditions. Average concentrations (in stormflow and low-flow samples) of total PCBs (sum of all congeners, including coelutions) are 5.9 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg) for NEB, 6.6 µg/kg for NWB, 130 µg/kg for LBDC, 34 µg/kg for Watts Branch, and 69 µg/kg for Hickey Run. Average concentrations of total PAHs (tPAH) (total of nonalkylated and alkylated species) are 2,000 µg/kg for NEB, 3,300 µg/kg for NWB, 2,200 µg/kg for LBDC, 2,400 µg/kg for Watts Branch, and 18,000 µg/kg for Hickey Run. tPAH concentrations among the ungaged streams were highest in Nash Run (5,500 µg/kg); concentrations in the other ungaged streams were less than (<) 700 µg/kg.

The general magnitude of tPCB and tPAH concentrations in streamwater samples was low-flow samples greater than (>) stormflow samples greater than or equal to (≥) bed-sediment samples. PCB congener profiles in the three types of samples were nearly identical in each stream and were similar in all streams except for LBDC, where the dominant PCBs shifted to the lighter di- through tetra- homologs. LBDC showed higher tPCB concentrations and a distinct congener profile from the other streams. The similarity in congener makeup supported that averaging PCB concentrations in stormflow and low-flow samples was appropriate for calculating chemical loads.

Loads of tPCB, tPAH (total of alkylated and nonalkylated forms), and pesticides were estimated for each stream by multiplying average contaminant concentrations by the respective sediment loads. Total PCB loads for 2017 were estimated to be 820 grams (g) with 8 percent (60 g) from NEB, 12 percent (95 g) from NWB, 75 percent (590 g) from LBDC, 3 percent (25 g) from Watts Branch, and 2.5 percent (19 g) from Hickey Run. PCB toxicity totaled 3.8×10−3 µg/kg, with the largest contribution (47 percent) derived from LBDC. Total PAH loads (sum of alkylated and nonalkylated forms) for 2017 were estimated to be 89,000 g, with 23 percent (20,000 g) from NEB, 59 percent (52,000 g) from NWB, 11 percent (9,800 g) from LBDC, 2 percent (1,400 g) from Watts Branch, and 6 percent (5,200 g) from Hickey Run. These results indicate that the largest contributor (75 percent) of PCBs to the Anacostia River is LBDC, although it contributes only 15 percent of the sediment and its basin area represents only 10 percent of the area of the Anacostia River watershed. The majority of the PAH load originates from NWB (59 percent of total) and NEB (22 percent). The ungaged tributaries contribute extremely small loads of PCBs and PAHs, totaling 8.1 g and 765 kg, respectively. More than 94 percent of the total load from the ungaged tributaries is derived from the Nash Run Basin.

Various organochlorine pesticides were present in suspended and bed sediment from all gaged and ungaged tributaries; however, elevated detection levels associated with the analytical methods resulted in numerous unquantifiable concentrations in the suspended-sediment samples. Only the pesticide chlordane was found in measurable concentrations in all gaged tributaries. As a result, in this report, a combination of analytical data from suspended-sediment and bed-sediment samples was used to estimate the maximum pesticide loading for each tributary. Chlordane was the principal compound present in the gaged tributaries; the highest average concentration (average of stormflow and low-flow samples from each stream) was 62 µg/kg in sediment from Watts Branch. Chlordane loads for 2017 totaled 1,100 g, of which 7 percent (430 g) was from NEB, 28 percent (320 g) was from NWB, 28 percent (310 g) was from LBDC, 5 percent (56 g) was from Watts Branch, and 1 percent (11 g) was from Hickey Run. Chlordane was not present in suspended or bed sediment from any of the ungaged tributaries. Loads of the other pesticides were estimated by using the highest concentration measured in the combined suspended-sediment and bed-sediment data for each stream. Notable loads include dieldrin (860 g from NWB), methoxychlor (205 g from LBDC), endrin aldehyde (150 g from NWB), and 4,4-DDT (79 g from Watts Branch). Compared with pesticide loads from the gaged streams, those from the ungaged streams were minimal, with only the Pope Branch contribution exceeding 1 gram per year for 4,4-DDE (1.05 g) and 4,4’-DDT (1.3 g).

The results of this study show that the dominant source of PCBs and chlordane is LBDC, despite its relatively small basin area. PAHs are ubiquitous throughout the study area, with the largest sources being NEB and NWB; this finding is a result of the large sediment load originating from these basins. The small, ungaged streams supply only minimal PCB and PAH loads, with Nash Run being the largest contributor.

Publication Year 2020
Title Sediment and chemical contaminant loads in tributaries to the Anacostia River, Washington, District of Columbia, 2016–17
DOI 10.3133/sir20195092
Authors Timothy P. Wilson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5092
Index ID sir20195092
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland Water Science Center