Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Fish from Western U.S. and Alaskan National Parks — Spatial Distribution and Health Thresholds


  • Paper No. JAWRA-13-0052-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).
  • Discussions are open until six months from print publication.


Remote national parks of the western U.S. and Alaska are not immune to contaminants of emerging concern. Semivolatile organic compounds (SOCs) such as pesticides and PCBs can selectively deposit from the atmosphere at higher rates in cold, high-elevation and high-latitude sites, potentially increasing risk to these ecosystems. In the environment, SOCs magnify up food chains and are known to increase health risks such as cancer and reproductive impairment. One hundred twenty-eight fish in 8 national parks in Alaska and the western U.S. were analyzed for contaminant concentrations, assessed by region, and compared to human and wildlife health thresholds. SOC concentrations from an additional 133 fish from a previous study were also included, for a total of 31 water bodies sampled. PCBs, endosulfan sulfate, and p,p′-DDE were among the most frequently detected contaminants. Concentrations of historic-use pesticides dieldrin, p,p′-DDE, and/or chlordanes in fish exceeded USEPA guidelines for human subsistence fish consumers and wildlife (kingfisher) health thresholds at 13 of 14 parks. Average concentrations in fish ranged from 0.6-280 ng/g lipid (0.02-7.3 μg/g ww). Contaminant loading was highest in fish from Alaskan and Sierra Nevada parks. Historic compounds were highest in Alaskan parks, while current-use pesticides were higher in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. This study provides a rigorous analysis of CECs in fish from national parks and identifies regions at potential risk.