BIOTIC INTEGRITY OF STREAMS IN THE SAVANNAH RIVER SITE INTEGRATOR OPERABLE UNITS, 1996 TO 2003

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The Savannah River Site (SRS) has been divided into six Integrator Operable Units (IOUs) that correspond to the watersheds of the five major streams on the SRS (Upper Three Runs, Fourmile Branch, Pen Branch, Steel Creek, and Lower Three Runs) and the portions of the Savannah River and Savannah River Swamp associated with the SRS. The streams are the primary integrators within each IOU because they potentially receive, through surface or subsurface drainage, soluble contaminants from all waste sites within their watersheds. If these contaminants reach biologically significant levels, they would be expected to effect the numbers, types, and health ... continued below

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Paller, M & Susan Dyer, S November 8, 2004.

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The Savannah River Site (SRS) has been divided into six Integrator Operable Units (IOUs) that correspond to the watersheds of the five major streams on the SRS (Upper Three Runs, Fourmile Branch, Pen Branch, Steel Creek, and Lower Three Runs) and the portions of the Savannah River and Savannah River Swamp associated with the SRS. The streams are the primary integrators within each IOU because they potentially receive, through surface or subsurface drainage, soluble contaminants from all waste sites within their watersheds. If these contaminants reach biologically significant levels, they would be expected to effect the numbers, types, and health of stream organisms. In this study, biological sampling was conducted within each IOU as a measure of the cumulative ecological effects of the waste sites within the IOUs. The use of information from biological sampling to assess environmental quality is often termed bioassessment. The IOU bioassessment program included 38 sites in SRS streams and nine sites in the Savannah River. Sampling was conducted in 1996 to 1998, 2000, and 2003. Four bioassessment methods were used to evaluate ecological conditions in the IOU streams: the Index of Biotic Integrity, the Fish Health Assessment Index, measurement of fish tissue contaminant levels, and two benthic macroinvertebrate indices. The Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) is an EPA supported method based on comparison of ecologically important and sensitive fish assemblage variables between potentially disturbed and reference (i.e., undisturbed) sites. It is designed to assess the ability of a stream to support a self-sustaining biological community and ecological processes typical of undisturbed, natural conditions. Since many types of contaminants can bioaccumulate, fish tissue contaminant data were used to determine the types of chemicals fish were exposed to and their relative magnitudes among IOUs. The Fish Health Assessment Index (HAI) is an EPA supported method for assessing the health and condition of individual fish based on dissection and internal examination. It helped to determine whether contaminant concentrations were high enough to adversely affect the health of individual fish. The benthic macroinvertebrate multimetric index (HDMI), used in 1997 to 2000, is a method for assessing stream health based on macroinvertebrate data collected with Hester-Dendy artificial substrates. In 2003 it was replaced with the Multiple Habitat Sampling protocol, a SCDHEC method for collecting and analyzing benthic macroinvertebrate data from natural substrate. These two macroinvertebrate based methods were used in conjunction with the fish based IBI to provide a more comprehensive assessment of ecological conditions. Lastly, habitat data were collected from each stream to assist in determining whether ecological integrity was compromised by physical factors (e.g., erosion) or chemical factors (e.g., discharge of toxic materials). Fish from many SRS streams exhibited evidence of contamination as a result of current or former SRS operations. The most prevalent radiological contaminants were cesium-137 (highest in fish from Lower Three Runs followed by Steel Creek and Fourmile Branch), tritium (highest in fish from Fourmile Branch followed by Pen Branch, and the Savannah River swamp), and strontium (highest in fish from Fourmile Branch followed by Pen Branch). Radiological contaminants were also found in fish collected from the Savannah River near the mouths of contaminated SRS streams; however, contaminant levels were substantially lower than in fish from the streams themselves. Mercury levels were moderately elevated in fish from some streams, particularly Lower Three Runs, and in fish from the Savannah River. Despite the occurrence of contaminants, most SRS streams exhibited comparatively high biotic integrity (based on IBI, HDMI, and MHSP scores) and minimal levels of pathology among individual fish (e.g., presence of tumors or extreme thinness), indicating that contaminant levels were generally insufficient to cause significant ecological degradation.

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  • Report No.: WSRC-TR-2004-00562
  • Grant Number: DE-AC09-96SR18500
  • DOI: 10.2172/891676 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 891676
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc883215

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  • November 8, 2004

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 21, 2016, 2:29 a.m.

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  • Dec. 9, 2016, 10:44 p.m.

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Paller, M & Susan Dyer, S. BIOTIC INTEGRITY OF STREAMS IN THE SAVANNAH RIVER SITE INTEGRATOR OPERABLE UNITS, 1996 TO 2003, report, November 8, 2004; [Aiken, South Carolina]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc883215/: accessed October 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.