Toxic Groundwater Contaminants: An Overlooked Contributor to Urban Stream Syndrome?
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Screening for common groundwater contaminants was performed along eight urban stream reaches (100s-1000s of m) at approximately 25-75 cm below the streambeds. Four sites had known or suspected chlorinated-solvent plumes; otherwise no groundwater contamination was known previously. At each site, between 5 and 22 contaminants were detected at levels above guideline concentrations for the preservation of aquatic life, while several others were detected at lower levels, but which may still indicate some risk. Contaminants of greatest concern include numerous metals (Cd, Zn, Al, Cu, Cr, U), arsenic, various organics (chlorinated and petroleum), nitrate and ammonium, and chloride (road salt likely), with multiple types occurring at each site and often at the same sampling location. Substantial portions of the stream reaches (from 40 to 88% of locations sampled) possessed one or more contaminants above guidelines. These findings suggest that this diffuse and variable-composition urban groundwater contamination is a toxicity concern for all sites and over a large portion of each study reach. Synergistic toxicity, both for similar and disparate compounds, may also be important. We conclude that groundwater contaminants should be considered a genuine risk to urban stream aquatic ecosystems, specifically benthic organisms, and may contribute to urban stream syndrome.
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