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Environ Res. 2007 Sep;105(1):101-18. Epub 2006 Dec 14.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in San Francisco Bay: a 10-year retrospective of monitoring in an urbanized estuary.

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  • 1San Francisco Estuary Institute, 7770 Pardee Lane, 2nd Floor, Oakland, CA 94621, USA.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are widespread contaminants in the San Francisco Bay. Several exceedances of water quality criteria raise the possibility that PAH may be impacting aquatic biota. The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in the San Francisco Estuary (RMP) has collected annual monitoring data on PAH in the Bay since 1993. Analysis of Bay water, sediment, and mussel SigmaPAH concentration data showed that there were very few significant (P < 0.05) increasing or decreasing temporal trends in SigmaPAH concentrations in the Bay during the period of 1993-2001. Wet and dry season input of PAH did not show any major influence on water SigmaPAH concentrations over the same period. Based on their relative contribution to the estimated total maximum PAH loading (10,700 kg/yr) into the Bay, the PAH loading pathways are ranked as storm water runoff ( approximately 51%) >tributary inflow ( approximately 28%) >wastewater treatment plant effluent ( approximately 10%) >atmospheric deposition ( approximately 8%) >dredged material disposal ( approximately 2%). The PAH sediment quality threshold of 1000 ng/g, which has been previously suggested by NOAA to protect estuarine fish such as English sole against adverse health effects, was frequently exceeded at individual monitoring stations (11 of the 26 stations exceeded the threshold over 50% of the time). Modeling results have shown that the predominant loss pathway for PAH is degradation in sediments, and unless external loading levels of PAH are controlled, the Bay is not expected to recover rapidly.

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