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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-40

National Status and Trends Program

National Benthic
Surveillance Project:
Pacific Coast
Organic Chemical Contaminants
Cycles I to VII (1984-90)

Bruce B. McCain, Donald W. Brown, Sin-Lam Chan,
John T. Landahl, William D. MacLeod, Jr.,
Margaret M. Krahn, Catherine A. Sloan, Karen L. Tilbury,
Susan M. Pierce, Douglas G. Burrows, and Usha Varanasi

Contributing Authors:
Richard Bogar, Jennie Bolton, Richard Boyer,
Andrew Friedman, William Gronlund, Beth Horness,
Leslie Moore, Ronald Pearce, and Tara Felix-Slinn

Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Environmental Conservation Division
2725 Montlake Boulevard East
Seattle, Washington 98112

March 2000

William Daley, Secretary

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
D. James Baker, Administrator

National Marine Fisheries Service
Penelope D. Dalton, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries

NOAA-NWFSC Tech Memo-40: National Benthic Surveillance Project:
Pacific Coast (Organic Chemical Contaminants Cycles I to VII (1984-90))

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS Series

The Northwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, uses the NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS series to issue informal scientific and technical publications when complete formal review and editorial processing are not appropriate or feasible due to time constraints. Documents published in this series may be referenced in the scientific and technical literature.

The NMFS-NWFSC Technical Memorandum series of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center continues the NMFS-F/NWC series established in 1970 by the Northwest & Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which has since been split into the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The NMFS-AFSC Technical Memorandum series is now being used by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Reference throughout this document to trade names does not imply endorsement by the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA.

This document should be cited as follows:

McCain, B.B., D.W. Brown, S.-L. Chan, J.T. Landahl,
W.D. MacLeod, Jr., M.M. Krahn, C.A. Sloan, K.L.
Tilbury, S.M. Pierce, D.G. Burrows, and U. Varanasi.
2000. National benthic surveillance project: Pacific
Coast. Organic chemical contaminants, cycles I to VII
(1984-90). U.S. Dept. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo.
NMFS-NWFSC-40, 121 p.

Most NOAA Technical Memorandums NMFS-NWFSC are
available on-line at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center
web site (https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov)

Copies are also available from:

National Technical Information Service
U.S. Department of Commerce
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161


This HTML file represents the Introduction only; the rest of the document is available only in PDF format.


As a component of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program, the National Benthic Surveillance Project (NBSP) monitored levels of contaminants in sediment and bottomfish and prevalences of pathological conditions in bottomfish at selected sites throughout the U.S. coastline. This memorandum summarizes and interprets the status and trends of the organic chemical contaminants for 50 sites in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California for the years 1984-1990 and included results of 3213 chemical analyses of sediment, fish stomach contents, fish liver, and bile samples. Thirty-one of these sites were in or near urban centers and were selected to be as representative as possible of waste inputs from multiple sources, although the sites were not necessarily representative of entire embayments.

Uniform sampling protocols and state-of-the-art analytical methods have produced an extensive database, which includes detailed information on the distribution of selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides (CHs) in surficial sediments and stomach contents of selected species of bottom-feeding fish. Coprostanol (COP) was determined in sediment samples as a marker compound of sewage. The PAHs were divided into two classes of compounds: lower molecular weight PAHs (LAHs), having two to three aromatic rings; and higher molecular weight PAHs (HAHs), having four to six aromatic rings. Livers were not analyzed for PAHs because they are of limited value due to the extensive biotransformation of these compounds to more polar metabolic products, most of which are readily excreted into the bile. Therefore, exposure of fish to PAHs was estimated by measuring fluorescent aromatic compounds (FACs) in bile and to PAHs in stomach contents. Concentrations of biliary FACs are reported as benzo[a]pyrene equivalents (FACs-H), representing the HAHs; or naphthalene equivalents (FACs-L), representing LAHs. Liver tissues of fish were analyzed for CHs, PCBs (tri- through decachlorobiphenyls), and several CHs including 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane and its metabolites (DDTs); chlordanes (a-chlordane and trans-nonachlor), dieldrin, and hexachlorobenzene (HCB).

The overall findings from the NBSP for the period 1984-90 indicated that the highest concentrations of most sediment-associated organic contaminants were present in the most highly urbanized areas, and that many of the organic contaminants were bioaccumulated by indigenous marine fish species. The highest levels of organic contaminants were found at sites in San Francisco Bay (Hunters Point, Oakland Estuary), Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay (Los Angeles and Long Beach), San Diego Bay, and Puget Sound (Seattle and Tacoma).

Sampling Site Contamination

In San Francisco Bay, concentrations of PAHs in sediment from sites near the Hunters Point and Oakland Estuary sites were among the highest on the West Coast. These high concentrations were reflected in the levels of FACs in bile of starry flounder (Platicthys stellatus) and white croaker (Genyonemus lineatus) from these sites. Concentrations of PCBs, DDTs, chlordanes and dieldrin in sediments from San Francisco Bay tended to be moderate compared to other urbanized bays; however, mean concentrations of these CHs in the livers of starry flounder were significantly higher at sites in San Francisco Bay compared to sites in Oregon and Alaska. White croaker from the Hunters Point and Oakland Estuary sites had concentrations of CHs that were similar to those found in this species from urbanized sites in Southern California, except for concentrations of DDTs which were all significantly higher in croaker from sites in the vicinity of Los Angeles.

Within the Southern California Bight, four of the five sites in Santa Monica Bay had concentrations of DDTs and COP (an indicator of human feces in waste water) in sediment that were among the highest on the West Coast. Sediment concentrations of PCBs and PAHs were moderate compared to other urbanized sites. However, mean concentrations of both DDTs and PCBs in the livers of hornyhead turbot (Pleuronichthys verticalus) and white croaker were among the highest found so far on the West Coast, whereas levels of biliary FACs were generally comparable to most urbanized sites.

In nearby San Pedro Bay, all four sites had, by a considerable margin, the highest concentrations of DDTs in sediment and white croaker found among the West Coast sites. With the exception of the Seal Beach site, levels of PCBs in sediment from the sites in this bay were also among the highest on the West Coast, and the levels of PCBs in the livers of white croaker from these sites were also among the highest for this species. Furthermore, the sediment and white croaker from the Long Beach site had high levels of chlordanes compared to most other sites. The levels of PAHs were relatively high in sediments from sites in San Pedro Bay, with levels at the Cerritos Channel site being among the highest along the coast, and these levels were reflected in the levels of FACs found in the bile of white croaker from these sites.

Sediments from two sites in San Diego Bay, the Twenty-eighth Street Pier site, and the north San Diego Bay site, had concentrations of PAHs and PCBs that tended to be higher than most of the other West Coast sites. These high sediment concentrations were also reflected in the high concentrations of FACs in bile and PCBs in livers of white croaker and barred sand bass (Paralabrax nebulifer) from these sites.

The site in Seattle's Elliott Bay had sediment concentrations of PAHs and PCBs that were also among the highest on the West Coast. This contamination was also reflected in the elevated concentrations of FACs in bile and PCBs in liver of English sole (Pleuronichthys vetulus) from this site. The site in Tacoma's Commencement Bay had concentrations of PCBs in sediment and livers of English sole that were significantly lower than those found at the Elliott Bay site. The levels of most of the other contaminants in sediment and English sole from the Commencement Bay site were not significantly different from those at the Elliott Bay site. The exceptions included sediment and liver tissue concentrations of HCB and concentrations of COP in sediments at the Commencement Bay site which were among the highest on the West Coast.

Sediment and fish [English sole, flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassadon), starry flounder, and fourhorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus quadricornis)] samples from sites in Alaska generally had low concentrations of PAHs, CHs, and their derivatives. The few exceptions were selected sites in the Bering Sea, such as Dutch Harbor, and the Oliktok Point site in the Beaufort Sea. For example, samples of sediment from the Dutch Harbor and Oliktok Point sites had moderate concentrations of HAHs, LAHs, and PCBs, whereas only English sole and flathead sole from Dutch Harbor had relatively high concentrations of FACs-L in bile. Of additional interest was the finding that starry flounder from two other sites in the Bering Sea had concentrations of FACs-H in bile that were significantly higher than for the reference site in Bodega Bay, California. Only flathead sole from the Dutch Harbor site had a mean concentration of CHs that was significantly higher than the reference site.

Statistical Assessments

At many of the sampling sites, concentrations of organic contaminants in sediment appeared to be reflected in the concentrations of these contaminants or their derivatives in fish from these sites. In order to test this hypothesis, Spearman rank correlations were performed for the organic contaminants in three types of samples-sediments, tissues, and stomach contents. The results demonstrated that when data from all fish species were combined, strong associations were found among concentrations of PCBs, chlordanes, DDTs, HCB and dieldrin in sediment and those same chemicals in fish livers, as well as between PAH levels in sediment and their corresponding FACs in fish bile. Concentrations of PCBs, HAHs, DDTs, PAHs, dieldrin, and chlordanes in stomach contents were also highly correlated with those in sediments, liver and/or bile.

Similar, but fewer or less significant, correlations were also found for the individual species. Correlations between levels of PAHs in sediment and/or stomach contents and levels of FACs in bile were found for flathead sole, English sole, white croaker, and barred sand bass. No other correlations were found for flathead sole, perhaps because most flathead sole were captured in relatively uncontaminated sites in Alaska. Among the remaining five species, significant correlations were found for levels of PCBs and chlordanes in sediment and/or stomach contents and levels of these chemicals in livers.

Another important aspect of the NBSP was to evaluate the presence of temporal trends of concentrations of contaminants in sediment and fish. Trends were evaluated by first performing Spearman rank correlations on concentrations of each class of contaminant in sediment and in stomach content and tissue for each fish species at each site. The results of these correlations were tested for consistency using meta-analysis. Only sites for which analyses had been conducted for at least four years over a five year span were used-12 sites met this criterion. Trend analyses were performed for HAHs, LAHs, PCBs, DDTs, dieldrin, and chlordanes. Concentrations of HCB were near or below the limits of detection and were not included in the trends analyses. The trend analyses demonstrated that, of the 72 possible trends, 38 showed no trend, 13 showed decreasing concentrations, and 21 had increasing concentrations. The highest number of increasing trends was among the PAHs, eight for HAHs and five for LAHs, followed by dieldrin (4), chlordanes (2), DDTs (1) and PCBs (2). Among the decreasing trends, chlordanes, PCBs and DDTs each had three, with dieldrin having two and LAHs one.

Sites with positive trends for concentrations of PAHs were located in both nonurban and urban areas. All three of the nonurban, reference sites in the contiguous U.S. (Dana Point, Bodega Bay and Nisqually Reach) had significant increases in HAHs, LAHs, or both. The urban sites included Hunters Point and Southampton Shoal in San Francisco Bay, Long Beach and Outer Harbor in San Pablo Bay, and Commencement Bay in Puget Sound. The Coos Bay site also had increasing concentrations of chlordanes and DDTs. Positive trends for chlordanes were observed in the Southampton Shoal site, and increases in dieldrin concentrations were found for the Dana Point, South San Diego Bay, Coos Bay and Elliott Bay sites. The only sites with increasing concentrations of PCBs were both in Puget Sound-Commencement Bay and Elliott Bay.

The Dana Point site had the highest number of contaminants with decreasing trends, including chlordanes, DDTs, and PCBs. Decreasing trends for dieldrin and DDTs were also found at the Hunters Point site, and for PCBs and LAHs at the South San Diego Bay site. The only other decreasing trends were found for the following individual contaminant classes at single sites: dieldrin (Bodega Bay), DDTs (Hunters Point), chlordanes (Nisqually Reach), PCBs (San Pedro Bay Outer Harbor), and chlordanes (West Santa Monica Bay).

Because the NBSP was a national program in which samples of sediment and fish were collected and analyzed in very similar ways, it is possible to compare the results found on the West Coast with other regions of the U.S. Such a comparison shows that, with the exception of a few sites in Boston Harbor, levels of PAHs in sediments from urban sites on the north Atlantic Coast were similar to those from urban sites on the West Coast. Levels of PAHs in sediments from sites in the inner portions of Boston Harbor were highest in the U.S. Similarly, aside from a site in New Bedford Harbor, levels of PCBs in sediments from urban sites on the north Atlantic and West Coasts were similar. The New Bedford Harbor site had the highest sediment levels of PCBs so far found in the U.S. Again, with the exception of sites in the above-mentioned harbors, levels of PAHs and their derivatives and PCBs in winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus) from these urbanized sites on the north Atlantic Coast were also comparable to those in fish from similar sites on the Pacific Coast. In contrast, levels of DDTs in sediment and fish from sites in the Los Angeles area were the highest found in the U.S., whereas levels of DDTs in sediment and fish from other sites in the north Atlantic and West Coasts were similar.


The National Benthic Surveillance Project (NBSP) was initiated in 1984 by NOAA as a component of the National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program, which is designed to document the status of and to assess long-term changes in the environmental quality of the Nation's coastal and estuarine waters. The NBSP is a cooperative effort between the National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA's National Ocean Services (NOS). The specific objectives of the NBSP were:

This technical memorandum summarizes the results of the organic chemical contaminant analyses for the first seven years of the West Coast portion of NBSP. Although it is an overview of findings as well as a detailed presentation and treatment of these data, it is not meant to comprehensively review the related marine pollution literature. However, pertinent references are included in discussions of the most significant aspects.

The rest of the document is available in PDF format.