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A probabilistic ecological risk assessment of tributyltin in surface waters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed

by L.W. Hall Jr., M.C. Scott, W.D. Killen, M.A. Unger
Human and Ecological Risk Assessment (HERA) ()
  • ISSN: 10807039


The goal of this study was to conduct a probabilistic ecological risk assessment for tributyltin (TBT) in surface waters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Ecological risk was characterized by comparing the probability distributions of environmental exposure concentrations with the probability distributions of species response data determined from laboratory studies. The overlap of these distributions was a measure of risk to aquatic life. Tributyltin exposure data from the Chesapeake Bay watershed were available from over 3600 water column samples from 41 stations in nine basins from 1985 through 1996. Most of the stations were located in the Virginia waters of Chesapeake Bay, primarily the James, Elizabeth and York Rivers. In Maryland waters of the Bay, various marina, harbor and river systems were also sampled. As expected, the highest environmental concentrations of tributyltin (based on 90th percentiles) were reported in and near marina areas. The sources of TBT causing these high concentrations were primarily boat hulls and painting/ depainting operations. Lower concentrations of TBT were reported in open water areas, such as the Potomac River, Choptank River and C and D Canal, where the density of boats was minimal. Temporal data from a ten year data base (1986-1996) from two areas in Virginia showed that TBT water column concentrations have declined since 1987 legislation prohibited the use of TBT paints on recreation boats (<25 m). Acute saltwater and freshwater TBT toxicity data were available for 43 and 23 species, respectively. Acute effects for saltwater species were reported for concentrations exceeding 420 ng/L; the lowest acute value for a freshwater species was 1110 ng/L. The acute 10th percentiles for all saltwater and freshwater species were 320 and 103 ng/L, respectively. The order of sensitivity from most to least sensitive for saltwater trophic groups and corresponding acute 10th percentiles were as follows: zooplankton (5 ng/L), phytoplankton (124 ng/L), benthos (312 ng/L) and fish (1009 ng/L). For freshwater species, the order of sensitivity from most to least sensitive trophic groups and corresponding acute 10th percentiles were: benthos (44 ng/L), zooplankton (400 ng/L), and fish (849 ng/L). Chronic data for both saltwater and freshwater species were limited to a few species in each water type. Based on these limited data, the saltwater and freshwater chronic 10th percentiles were 5 and 102 ng/L, respectively. Limited mesocosm and microcosm studies in saltwater suggested that TBT concentrations less than 50 ng/L did not impact the structure and function of biological communities. The saltwater acute (320 ng/L) and chronic (5 ng/L) 10th percentiles were used to determine ecological risk because all exposure data were from saltwater areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Highest ecological risk was reported for marina areas in Maryland waters of Chesapeake Bay and for areas in Virginia such as the Elizabeth River, Hampton Creek and Sarah Creek. Low ecological risk was reported for areas such as the Potomac River, Choptank River, C and D Canal and Norfolk Harbor. Regulation of TBT on recreational watercraft in 1987 has successfully reduced water column concentrations of this organometallic compound. However, various studies have showed that TBT may remain in the sediment for years and continue to be source for water column exposures. © 2000 by ASP.

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