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Keywords:

  • Smelters;
  • Aquatic communities;
  • Heavy metals

Abstract

Emissions from zinc smelters in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, deposited large quantities of heavy metals, predominantly Zn, Pb, Cu, and Cd, on the surrounding landscape from 1898 to 1980. From 1986 to 1987 we studied four small headwater streams that were about 8 to 25 km downwind of the smelters to determine if long-term deposition of heavy metals had any pronounced effects on aquatic communities. Although metal concentrations in soils tended to decrease with increasing distance from the smelters, this trend was not particularly evident in stream sediments, insects, or fish. Diversities of macroinvertebrates and fish were similar among sites. Densities and growth of trout varied among streams, but not in relation to distance from the smelters. We concluded that long-term deposition of heavy metals has not had pronounced effects on aquatic animal communities six to seven years after cessation of primary smelting.