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Bioaccumulation of Pollutants in California Waters: A Review of Historic Data and Assessment of Impacts on Fishing and Aquatic Life

E.J. Zhang, M. Odaya, Aroon Melwani, E.M. Letteney, J. Letitia Grenier, Jay A. Davis, Shira N. Bezalel | October 24th, 2007

This report was written for the State Water Resources Control Board’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) as a step toward the development of an improved bioaccumulation monitoring program for California. The report provides a review of bioaccumulation monitoring data generated under three historic State Board programs (the Toxic Substances Monitoring Program, the State Mussel Watch Program, and the Coastal Fish Contamination Program) and other major bioaccumulation studies since 1970. Future monitoring will be guided by assessment questions developed for the SWAMP.  The objective of this report was to evaluate how well the historic data from the State Board programs and from other major monitoring efforts since 1970 address these questions. This exercise has provided a substantial amount of information about present and historical impacts of pollutant bioaccumulation on shing and aquatic life in California, and has also highlighted areas where improved sampling approaches can better address the assessment questions.

Present concentrations of pollutants in many California water bodies are high enough to cause concern for possible effects on human health and to have a significant impact on the fishing beneficial use. Consumption advisories, 303(d) listings, and the bioaccumulation database as a whole provide three indices of the status of this impact. Consumption advisories exist for an increasing number of water bodies, but these represent only a fraction of the areas likely to need them. Lack of suitable data is a major impediment to developing advice for additional water bodies. A US E.P.A. evaluation of the 2002 303(d) List indicated that large portions of the state had not been assessed, especially rivers and coastline. Most of the lake area in the state (61%) had been assessed, and a relatively small percentage of the total area (6%) was classified as impaired. Assessment of lakes, however, has focused primarily on the largest lakes, leaving the vast majority of smaller lakes unsampled. Many of these small lakes are near population centers and are popular for shing. Bays and estuaries had been thoroughly assessed (98% of the area) and 93% of the total area was impaired.

Evaluation of the most recent monitoring data (collected from 1998-2003) indicates that, for the locations sampled, 32% had low concentrations of pollutants, 42% had moderate concentrations, 18% had high concentrations, and 8% had very high concentrations (Figure 1). Concentrations in the low category are in a range where consumption is generally encouraged by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) (Klasing and Brodberg 2006). OEHHA is the agency responsible for managing health risks due to contaminated sport fish in California. Concentrations in the very high category are in a range where OEHHA discourages consumption (Klasing and Brodberg 2006). Lakes assigned to the moderate, high, or very high concentration categories were primarily affected by mercury, with PCBs also playing a lesser role.


fisheries, mercury, pollutants, Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP)