• Sediment Quality Triad;
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons;
  • Sediment;
  • Toxicity;
  • Benthos


A Sediment Quality Triad study involving synoptic measures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination, toxicity, and resident community (benthic infauna, crab) alteration was conducted to assess impacts from an aluminum smelter discharge. No sediment toxicity was observed, despite extensive testing since 1988 on four test species. Evidence of effects on resident communities was minimal. Effects were not expected in areas >1 km from the smelter, because PAH concentrations have decreased with recent effluent improvements to below levels associated with effects in other studies. However, concentrations within 1 km of the smelter were high (maximum concentration was 10,000 mg/kg total PAH, although most were <150 mg/kg). Based on the literature, those concentrations should have had significant effects on toxicity test responses and benthic communities. Because they did not, we conclude that availability of sediment PAH was limited. Concentrations of parent PAH and metabolites in Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) were also low, supporting the hypothesis of limited bioavailability. Bioavailability may be limited because much of the PAH is present as pitch or coal particles. This study indicates that high contaminant concentrations may not be associated with effects, if availability is limited.