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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


San Francisco Bay Estuary Priority Ecosystem Study

A photo collage of Hunters Point, a Superfund site in San Francisco Bay, California.
Hunters Point, a Superfund site in San Francisco Bay, California, that's heavily contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), was used as a study area to develop tools and methods to assess contaminated sediments. The standard method to assess an ecological hazard made analyses very difficult and inconclusive. Therefore, the goal of USGS scientists and their colleagues was to characterize the relationship between bioavailable PCB (controlled in situ by amendments of activated carbon) and the functional ecology of the benthic community.
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Diverse organic and inorganic contaminants that vary widely in their environmental behavior, sources, and toxicity enter the San Francisco Bay estuary. Toxic substances enter the estuary in agricultural and urban runoff and in discharges from municipal wastewater facilities and industries. The study focuses on the movement, fate, and effect of contaminants from a variety of agricultural, industrial, and urban sources, such as pesticides and toxic trace elements, and on the effects of the highly varying hydrologic conditions in river--estuarine environments. Scientists are developing an approach to characterize the distribution of contamination and the resulting ecological effects that will be applied in similar environments elsewhere.

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