Endobenthic Organisms Exposed to Chronically High Chloride from Groundwater Discharging along Freshwater Urban Streams and Lakeshores
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Chloride, especially from road salt, is one of the most ubiquitous contaminants of urban groundwater in temperate climates. The discharge of chloride-laden groundwater to freshwater ecosystems may pose a heightened risk to endobenthic organisms (buried in sediments), which may experience high concentrations prior to dilution from the overlying water. However, available exposure data is limited. Presented here are 22 chloride data sets from 15 urban sites across Canada, encompassing >1300 samples of shallow discharging groundwater collected principally during summer through autumn. Over half of the sites had an average chloride concentration above the long-term aquatic life guideline (120 mg/L), while 14% of each site's samples, on average, surpassed the short-term guideline (640 mg/L). Chloride concentrations frequently varied substantially (even >1000 mg/L) between adjacent locations (mostly <20 m separation), indicating patchy exposure. Chloride/bromide ratios, artificial sweeteners, and other tracers suggest a predominant contribution from road salt, with wastewater and landfill leachate important at some sites. Overall, these concentrations exceed those typically reported for urban wells and streams (even during the snowmelt period) in similar climates. These findings suggest that high chloride concentrations in shallow groundwater, largely from road salt, present a long-term threat to endobenthic organisms of urban surface waters in cold-region countries.
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