US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 727–737, 2001


The occurrence and potential adverse effects of select semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in streambed sediment were assessed at 536 sites in 20 major river basins across the United States from 1992 to 1995. Fifty-six SVOCs were detected at one or more sites, and one or more SVOCs were detected at 71% of sites. The northeastern and Great Lakes regions and large metropolitan areas have the highest SVOC concentrations. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were detected most frequently and at the highest concentrations. Concentrations of PAHs and phthalates were about 10 times higher at sites influenced by urban activities than at sites in other land-use areas. Semivolatile organic compounds were significantly (α = 0.05) correlated with land use and population density, and PAHs also correlated with physical/chemical properties. On the basis of sediment-quality guidelines, adverse effects are probable at 7.5% and possible at 16.2% of the sites. Most of the potential for adverse effects is due to PAHs. The median percentage of urban land use was 8% at sites with possible adverse effects and 16% at sites with probable adverse effects. Urbanization profoundly affects sediment quality, even though it comprised a small percentage of most drainage basins.