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NCCOS Project

Surveillance of Pollution from Emerging Chemical Threats in Tampa Bay

This project began in September 2023 and is expected to end in August 2028.

Tampa Bay is divided into six sub-regions to be sampled quarterly for fish contaminants.

Tampa Bay is divided into six sub-regions to be sampled quarterly for fish contaminants.

We are characterizing the distribution, concentration, and seasonality of contaminants in the Tampa Bay estuary and potential effects to wildlife and humans.

Why We Care
Increasingly, there is concern not only for the proliferation of human-made and natural chemical threats to coastal biota and human health, but also in the potential for intertwined effects among chemicals, particularly under the effects of climate change and other environmental stressors. Typically, field surveillance programs for chemical pollutants and laboratory-based toxicological studies focus on a single chemical species or class of compounds. We have limited understanding of the effects of combinations of chemicals, and even less understanding of the correlation of pollutant concentrations with effects to wildlife and human health risk assessments.

Tampa Bay, Florida, is one of the largest estuarine systems on the west coast of Florida and serves as a major hub for tourism, fishing, and state imports. Potentially problematic levels of contaminants of both emerging and known concern have been detected in Tampa Bay waters, sediments, and, in some cases, fishes. Conducting a comprehensive and integrated study of the dynamics, fates, impacts, and risks associated with co-occurring contaminants in Tampa Bay will make considerable new knowledge available to environmental managers and serve as a model for similar studies to be conducted elsewhere.

What We Are Doing
We are investigating all major classes of contaminants of emerging concern, and a number of contaminants of known concern, in the Tampa Bay estuary to characterize the distribution, concentration, and seasonality of such chemicals and their potential threats to wildlife and humans. Researchers will pinpoint the source origins and fates of these chemicals, describe the depositional histories of chemicals into Bay sediments, and conduct surveys of human subpopulations that may be at particular risk from these chemical pollutants. Specific goals include:

    • Undertake a series of field collections, sampling waters, waste waters, sediments, invertebrates, and vertebrate fishes of Tampa Bay to characterize the concentration, spatial distribution, sequestration, and seasonality of selected contaminants.
    • Conduct examinations of selected vertebrate fishes obtained within Tampa Bay to ascertain the relationship between contaminant body burdens and an array of health-related effects.
    • Characterize, using various multivariate statistical techniques, the associations between various contaminant chemicals to indicate the potential for synergies among them.
    • Survey various human sub-populations to ascertain the characteristics of human consumption patterns potentially leading to elevated toxicological risks from seafood consumption (e.g., focusing especially on subsistence-level fishers).
    • Develop quantitative risk assessments for seafood consumption of various popular seafood species using results of contaminant sampling within the bay and various action levels specified for specific chemical exposures.
    • Inform various city, county, state, and federal environmental management and water management agencies and entities about the state of contamination from various contaminants occurring within Tampa Bay, and assist those agencies in developing appropriate management responses and longer term monitoring plans.

Benefits of Our Work
Findings will be used to inform human risk assessments for consumption of seafood harvested within Tampa Bay. Environmental managers can use this work to inform policy and regulatory decision-making with respect to point and nonpoint source pollution abatement and health advisories.

This community-directed spending project is led by Dr. Steven Murawski at the University of South Florida in collaboration with Dr. Isabel Romero, Dr. Joshua Kilborn, Dr. Heather O’Leary, Dr. Mya Breitbart, and Sherryl Gilbert (and their graduate students) at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Patrick Schwing at Eckerd College.

Two researchers standing on a small boat in Tampa Bay, each holding fish they caught to analyze for contaminants.

Scientists are sampling the waters, waste waters, sediments, invertebrates, and fish (above) of Tampa Bay to understand the concentration, spatial distribution, and seasonality of different contaminants.

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