US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environ. Sci. Technol. 1999, 33, 2499-2504.


Trace-element concentrations in 541 streambed-sediment samples collected from 20 study areas across the conterminous United States were examined as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. Sediment samples were sieved and the <63-μm fraction was retained for determination of total concentrations of trace elements. Aluminum, iron, titanium, and organic carbon were weakly or not at all correlated with the nine trace elements examined: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc. Four different methods of accounting for background/ baseline concentrations were examined; however, normalization was not required because field sieving removed most of the background differences between samples. The sum of concentrations of trace elements characteristic of urban settings-copper, mercury, lead, and zinc-was well correlated with population density, nationwide. Median concentrations of seven trace elements (all nine examined except arsenic and selenium) were enriched in samples collected from urban settings relative to agricultural or forested settings. Forty-nine percent of the sites sampled in urban settings had concentrations of one or more trace elements that exceeded levels at which adverse biological effects could occur in aquatic biota.