U.S. Geological Survey

Cover image from WRIR01-4066 (click for enlargement, 71 KB) Trends in concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls in fish tissue from selected sites in the Delaware River basin in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, 1969-98

by Karen Riva-Murray, Robin A. Brightbill, and Michael D. Bilger

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4066


ABSTRACT

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations in fish tissue collected during the 1990's from selected sites in the Delaware River Basin were compared with concentrations in fish tissue collected during 1969-88. Data collected by State and Federal agencies on concentrations in whole-body common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and white sucker (Catostomus commersoni), and edible portions of American eel (Anguilla rostrata), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), and channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) during 1969-98 were compiled to define temporal trends in concentrations of PCBs in fish tissue from selected segments of the Delaware River, Lehigh River, Schuylkill River, and Brandywine Creek. 

The Delaware River in the vicinity of Trenton, New Jersey and Yardley, Pennsylvania (above the tidal influence) had the largest long-term data set among the sites considered for this study and was the only site with sufficient data for statistical analysis. A general pattern of decline in PCB concentrations during 1969-98 was apparent for this river segment. PCB concentrations in whole-body white sucker from this lower Delaware River segment declined during 1969-98 from a highest concentration of 7 micrograms per gram (µg/g, wet weight) in a sample collected during 1972 to 0.26 µg/g (wet weight) in a sample collected during 1998. PCB concentration was negatively correlated with year (Spearman rank correlation -0.46, p < 0.08, n = 15); especially after removal of a sample from 1977 with an unusually low concentration (Spearman rank correlation -0.53, p = 0.05, n = 14). PCB concentrations in edible flesh of American eel declined during 1975-95, from a highest concentration of 3.8 µg/g (wet weight) in a sample collected during 1976 to less than the reporting limit of 0.26 µg/g (wet weight) in samples collected during 1993 and 1995. PCB concentrations in most samples (for species considered in this study) collected from the lower Delaware River exceeded the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering (NAS/NAE) wildlife guideline level of 0.5 µg/g during the 1970's and 1980's, and decreased to below this level during the 1990's. No samples of edible portions of game fish exceeded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tolerance level by the mid 1980's. However, the PCB concentration in a smallmouth bass fillet sample that was collected during 1998 (0.37 µg/g) exceeded the Pennsylvania fish-consumption advisory level of 0.06 µg/g, and the concentrations in whole-body common carp and white sucker collected during 1998 (1.10 µg/g and 0.26 µg/g, respectively) exceeded the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife criterion concentration of 0.11 µg/g. (The concentration in carp also exceeded the 1973 NAS/NAE wildlife guideline concentration of 0.5 µg/g.) 

Graphical analysis of PCB concentrations in whole white sucker and (or) edible portions of American eel from the upper Delaware River, lower Delaware River, middle Schuylkill River, and Brandywine Creek indicate a decline from the 1970's and (or) 1980's to the middle to late 1990's. Temporal trends in PCB concentrations in white sucker samples from the lower Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers during 1979-98 are less clear; the PCB concentration (wet-weight basis) from a sample collected in 1998 from the lower Lehigh River was similar to that from a sample collected in 1979, and concentrations actually increased during 1982-98. Similarly, PCB concentrations in samples of white sucker and American eel from the lower Schuylkill River were highly variable over time. A decrease in lipid-adjusted PCB concentrations at both sites (for several white sucker samples with available lipid data) indicates that differences in fat content could be masking actual declines at these sites, but the data are insufficient for further interpretation. The available data indicate a slower rate of decline in PCB concentrations in fish from the lower Lehigh and Schuylkill Rivers than in fish from the other rivers considered in this study. 

The highest PCB concentrations in whole-body white sucker and common carp collected during 1998 from the study sites were in specimens from the lower Schuylkill River. These concentrations (4.0 µg/g and 0.89 µg/g, respectively) exceeded the national geometric mean concentration for whole-body fish in 1979 reported by the National Contaminant Biomonitoring Program. Recent (1994-1998) site-to-site differences in PCB concentrations in fish tissue, and in the patterns of decline since the 1970's and 1980's, correspond with amounts of urban-industrial land, population density, and point sources within watersheds, and may also be related to the retention, resuspension, and movement of PCB-contaminated sediment from a variety of sources. Most sites studied indicate a decline in fish tissue PCB concentrations since the 1970's and 1980's, but concentrations in certain species at some sites remain sufficiently high by the mid- to late- 1990's to pose concern for human and wildlife health. 


Citation: Riva-Murray, K., Brightbill, R.A., and Bilger, M.D., 2003, Trends in concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls in fish tissue from selected sites in the Delaware River basin in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, 1969-98: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4066, p. 19.

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