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Assessment and characterization of polychlorinated biphenyls near a hazardous waste incinerator: Analysis of vegetation, snow, and sediments



Samples of spruce needles, snowpack, and sediment were analyzed in the area around the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Centre (ASWTC) near Swan Hills, Canada, in 1997 and 1998, following a major accidental release of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs) in October 1996. The PCB concentrations in spruce needles and snow were mostly elevated to the east of the plant and contained congeners that were not present at upwind or distant sites. Several years of annual vegetation monitoring data indicated that PCB emissions increased prior to the reported accident. Within 3 km of the plant, there was a predominance of higher chlorinated congeners penta-, hexa-, hepta-, and octachlorobiphenyls in white spruce (Picea glauca) needles and snow. Polychlorinated biphenyl congener patterns varied seasonally in spruce needles, likely influenced by temperature effects on the volatilization and of particle-bound and vapor phase PCBs in the forest canopy. The similarity of deposition patterns in snow and needles in 1997 and 1998 suggested the PCBs in the surrounding area were derived by long-term fugitive releases of PCBs rather than an accidental release. In addition, hexachlorobenzene, a combustion byproduct of chlorinated organics in waste incinerators, was not measured at elevated concentrations in spruce needles or snow east of the facility and, when detected, was not correlated with PCB concentrations. A radiometrically dated sediment core from nearby Chrystina Lake (AB, Canada) showed a gradual increase in annual PCB flux during the early years of operation of the ASWTC, followed by a higher PCB flux in 1997, indicating that the lake may have been directly contaminated by the accidental release.