During the last century, the Christina River, the major estuarine river system in New Castle County (DE, USA), has received loadings of organic and inorganic chemicals, primarily from manufacturing facilities. Among the most abundant chemicals is zinc, which has accumulated in sediments at concentrations as high as 5,440 mg/kg. We studied the possible effects of zinc on early life stages of the mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), a resident species in the river and watershed. We conducted three different types of exposures. The first was a 96-h median lethal concentration (LC50) test with larvae exposed to waterborne zinc. The second was a larval exposure with zinc-spiked sediments (obtained from the relatively uncontaminated Magothy River in Anne Arundel County, MD, USA). The third was an embryo–larval exposure with Christina River sediments having a gradient of zinc concentrations. The average 96-h LC50 with newly hatched yolk sac larvae was 970 μg/L. In the larval tests, the average 7- and 21-d LC50s were 1,154 and 1,012 mg/kg, respectively. In the embryo–larval test, no significant difference was found in survival at concentrations between 38.8 and 1,098 mg/kg. However, significant reductions were observed in condition factor at concentrations of 582, 799, and 1,098 mg/kg. We calculated an average no-observed-effects concentration of 579 mg/kg and an average lowest-observed-effects concentration of 849 mg/kg for larval survival. Based on these results, we suggest that zinc in the Christina River may be affecting early life stages of the mummichog.
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