Assessment of PCB Contamination, the Potential for in Situ Microbial Dechlorination and Natural Attenuation in an Urban Watershed at the East Coast of the United States

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Sediment contamination is a major environmental issue in many urban watersheds and coastal areas due to the potential toxic effects of contaminants on biota and human health. Characterizing and delineating areas of sediment contamination and toxicity are important goals of coastal resource management in terms of ecological and economical perspectives. Core and surficial sediment samples were collected from an industrialized urban watershed at the East Coast of the United Stated and analyzed to evaluate the PCB contamination profile and toxicity resulting from dioxin-like PCBs as well as reductive dechlorination potential of indigenous PCB halorespiring bacteria through dechlorination activity assays. To support the experimental results an anaerobic dechlorination model was applied to identify microbial dechlorination pathways. The total PCB concentration in core samples ranged from 3.9 to 225.6 ng/g·dry weight (dw) decreasing with depth compared to 353.2 to 1213.7 ng/g·dw in surficial samples. The results of this study indicated an increase in PCB contamination over the last century as the industrial activity intensified. The toxicity resulting from dioxin-like PCBs was reduced up to 94% in core samples via 21 pathways resulting from the dechlorination model. Dechlorination rates in surficial sediment were between 1.8 and 13.2 · 10−3 mol% PCB116/day, while lower rates occurred in the core sediment samples. Dechlorination was achieved mainly through meta followed by para dechlorination. However, the rarer ortho dechlorination was also observed. Detection of indigenous PCB dechlorinating bacteria in the sediments and reduction of toxicity indicated potential for natural attenuation when point and nonpoint source PCBs in the urban watershed are controlled and PCB loading reduced.

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Science of the Total Environment



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