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Widespread occurrence and potential for biodegradation of bioactive contaminants in Congaree National Park, USA

June 21, 2017

Organic contaminants with designed molecular bioactivity, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals, originate from human and agricultural sources, occur frequently in surface waters, and threaten the structure and function of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Congaree National Park in South Carolina (USA) is a vulnerable park unit due to its location downstream of multiple urban and agricultural contaminant sources and its hydrologic setting, being composed almost entirely of floodplain and aquatic environments. Seventy-two water and sediment samples were collected from 16 sites in Congaree National Park during 2013 to 2015, and analyzed for 199 and 81 targeted organic contaminants, respectively. More than half of these water and sediment analytes were not detected or potentially had natural sources. Pharmaceutical contaminants were detected (49 total) frequently in water throughout Congaree National Park, with higher detection frequencies and concentrations at Congaree and Wateree River sites, downstream from major urban areas. Forty-seven organic wastewater indicator chemicals were detected in water, and 36 were detected in sediment, of which approximately half are distinctly anthropogenic. Endogenous sterols and hormones, which may originate from humans or wildlife, were detected in water and sediment samples throughout Congaree National Park, but synthetic hormones were detected only once, suggesting a comparatively low risk of adverse impacts. Assessment of the biodegradation potentials of 8 14C-radiolabeled model contaminants indicated poor potentials for some contaminants, particularly under anaerobic sediments conditions.