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Research Reserve Study Reveals Signs of Chemical Contamination

Scientists have discovered evidence that contaminants from a Superfund site have made their way into samples collected in the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, 25 miles away.

The researchers, from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, found the signature of a specific type of polychlorinated biphenyl (commonly known as PCBs) that looks chemically similar to the distinctive profile of Aroclor 1268, the main PCB mixture associated with the LCP Chemicals Superfund site near Brunswick, Georgia. Though relative concentrations were similar, absolute levels in Sapelo Island fish were much lower, and other measures suggest that the majority of its subtidal habitat is healthy.

Concentrations of total PCBs in some fish, however, fell within the range of values for which the EPA recommends limiting consumption to four or fewer fish meals per month. PCBs are a now-banned chemical compounds used widely throughout the world for decades. It had many uses but scientists discovered its toxicity and ability to accumulate in organisms through the food web.

NCCOS collaborated with staff from the reserve and NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management on this project. The results of this study establish baseline ecological conditions for identifying changes in the future and to guide management and stewardship of the Reserve.


Balthis, L., J. Hyland, C. Cooksey, E. Wirth, M. Fulton, J. Moore, and D. Hurley. 2012. Support for Integrated Ecosystem Assessments of NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS): Assessment of Ecological Condition and Stressor Impacts in Subtidal Waters of the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 150. NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, SC.

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Shorter web link for sharing: http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/news/?p=5955

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