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Keywords:

  • emerging contaminants;
  • St. Vrain Creek;
  • Lagrangian sampling;
  • water quality;
  • wastewater treatment plant;
  • urban stream corridor;
  • attenuation;
  • analytical variability

Abstract:  Recent national concerns regarding the environmental occurrence of emerging contaminants (ECs) have catalyzed a series of recent studies. Many ECs are released into the environment through discharges from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and other sources. In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey and the City of Longmont initiated an investigation of selected ECs in a 13.8-km reach of St. Vrain Creek, Colorado. Seven sites were sampled for ECs following a Lagrangian design; sites were located upstream, downstream, and in the outfall of the Longmont WWTP, and at the mouths of two tributaries, Left Hand Creek and Boulder Creek (which is influenced by multiple WWTP outfalls). Samples for 61 ECs in 16 chemical use categories were analyzed and 36 were detected in one or more samples. Of these, 16 have known or suspected endocrine-disrupting potential. At and downstream from the WWTP outfall, detergent metabolites, fire retardants, and steroids were detected at the highest concentrations, which commonly exceeded 1 μg/l in 2005 and 2 μg/l in 2006. Most individual ECs were measured at concentrations less than 2 μg/l. The results indicate that outfalls from WWTPs are the largest but may not be the sole source of ECs in St. Vrain Creek. In 2005, high discharge was associated with fewer EC detections, lower total EC concentrations, and smaller EC loads in St. Vrain Creek and its tributaries as compared with 2006. EC behavior differed by individual compound, and some differences between sites could be attributed to analytical variability or to other factors such as physical or chemical characteristics or distance from contributing sources. Loads of some ECs, such as diethoxynonylphenol, accumulated or attenuated depending on location, discharge, and distance downstream from the WWTP, whereas others, such as bisphenol A, were largely conservative. The extent to which ECs in St. Vrain Creek affect native fish species and macroinvertebrate communities is unknown, but recent studies have shown that fish respond to very low concentrations of ECs, and further study on the fate and transport of these contaminants in the aquatic environment is warranted.