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Thoughtful landowners are connected to their land

Service ramps up efforts to understand
contaminants of emerging concern

Service biologists Dan Gefell and Jess Goretzke collect water samples for analysis for contaminants of emerging concern. Photo by Stephanie Hummel/USFWS.

Service biologists Dan Gefell and Jess Goretzke collect water samples for analysis for contaminants of emerging concern. Photo by Stephanie Hummel/USFWS.

By Amber Bellamy
Ecological Services, Regional Office

Service biologists have been examining the presence and effects on wildlife resources of contaminants of emerging concern in the Great Lakes basin since 2010. Research suggests that CECs are present everywhere across the Great Lakes, but there are still gaps in understanding how CECs can affect fish and other aquatic organisms. Summer 2019 has been a busy one for Service biologists working to learn more about these contaminants in the Great Lakes Basin. Starting in late May, the CEC team began collecting water and sediment samples from several Great Lakes tributaries. This summer’s sampling effort is an effort to validate and enhance recent models to predict the occurrence of CECs (including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, industrial chemicals, fragrances, flavors, flame retardants and wastewater indicators) in water and sediment.

The existing models were developed using CEC concentrations in water and sediment collected in 2010-2014 from 24 U.S. tributaries of the Great Lakes. These models could help predict the occurrence of CECs in Great Lakes tributaries based on watershed characteristics including land use and point sources of pollution. Knowing where high risk of CECs occur is important information for those who manage resources in affected tributaries; exposure to CECs could affect fish, freshwater mussels and other aquatic organisms. Information provided by the models can be used to identify watersheds with a high probability of exposing aquatic organisms to CECs.

More than 120 sites on 26 tributaries in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York have been sampled as a result of this summer’s effort alone. Tributaries and sites were determined based on surrounding land use and proximity to point sources of CECs including wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows and concentrated animal feeding operations. Efforts were made to cover watersheds and geographic regions that were not represented or had sparse coverage during 2010-2014 sampling efforts, and to overlap with important natural resources or fish and wildlife populations of concern. Fish and Wildlife Service CEC Team members from field offices in Regions 3 and 5, in addition to USGS and tribal partners, have assisted with this summer’s sampling events.

This summer FWS partnered with St. Cloud State University to deploy a mobile exposure laboratory trailer, known as MELT, in the East and West Twin rivers in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The MELT was used to house fathead minnows which were exposed to water collected from each river. The watersheds of the East and West Twin rivers are dominated by agricultural land use while the Grand River in the Grand Rapids area is dominated by urban land use. Different types of CECs are typically associated with agricultural and urban land use, eliciting different effects in fathead minnows.

Adult fathead minnows were exposed for 21 days to water collected from different sites at each river location in order to assess reproductive and physiological effects from current river water conditions while still being able to control environmental variables such as temperature, light, food and predation. After 21 days, weight and length of minnows was assessed in order to determine body condition factor, which can be an indicator of overall health. Blood glucose levels were measured and secondary sex characteristics were evaluated only in males. Plasma samples will be analyzed for a protein and hormones (vitellogenin, estradiol and 11‚Äźketotestosterone) which can indicate feminization if detected in male fish.

Similar work with the MELT was done in the Maumee and Milwaukee rivers in 2016-2018. Fathead minnows exposed to water from several sites in the Maumee expressed few changes in condition factor, but differences in the potential for reproduction across sites were observed, presumably due to exposure to CECs. Comparisons of findings from MELT exposures across multiple study systems should provide a more comprehensive understanding of potential impacts of CECs on fish biology and ecology associated with agricultural and urban land uses.

Aquariums inside the Mobile Exposure Laboratory Trailer house fathead minnows during a contaminants exposure experiment. Photo by Stephanie Hummel/USFWS.

Aquariums inside the Mobile Exposure Laboratory Trailer house fathead minnows during a contaminants exposure experiment. Photo by Stephanie Hummel/USFWS.


Last updated: August 16, 2019