Get access

Environmental fractionation of PCBs and PBDEs during particle transport as recorded by sediments in coastal waters



The Strait of Georgia (British Columbia, Canada) is a hydrologically complex inland sea with a rich abundance and diversity of species of aquatic life. Marine sediments, as both a sink for hydrophobic contaminants and a potential source for aquatic food webs, were collected from 41 sites throughout the 6,900-km2 Strait of Georgia. The congener-specific concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), including BDE-209, were measured. Urban harbors represented hotspots for both PCBs and PBDEs, whereas PBDEs were also found at high concentrations near municipal outfalls. Patterns of PCB distribution were consistent with historical point source emissions in urban areas and environmental distillation toward lighter profiles in remote sites over time. The single congener BDE-209 dominated the PBDEs, accounting for 52% of the average total concentration. However, nonurban deep-water sediment PBDE profiles were both heavier and had higher concentration-weighted average log KOW (octanol–water partition coefficient) values compared to shallow samples (percent BDE-209 of total PBDE, 66 versus 32%; log KOW, 9.5 versus 8.2, respectively). Collectively, our results suggest that although source signals largely explain PCB and PBDE hotspots in the Strait of Georgia, the combination of physicochemical properties and environmental processes drive divergent compositional fates for the PCBs and the heavier PBDEs in the sediments of the Strait of Georgia. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1522–1532. © 2011 SETAC