Lead Levels in Fish and River Sediment in the Old Lead Belt of Missouri

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Environmental Science and Technology



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Although active mining activities in the Old Lead Belt of Missouri ceased in 1968, old tailings piles remain and continue to impact the lead (Pb) concentrations in sediments and fish in the Big River and Flat River Creek in Missouri. A 3-year study was conducted that examined the Pb concentrations in organic-rich sediments, fish fillets, and fish whole bodies at 13 sites in these two rivers. The results showed that the sediments had significantly elevated Pb concentrations near and beyond the tailings piles compared with control sites upstream from the mining activity. The results also showed the Pb concentration in sediments correlated well with Pb concentrations in suckers (r = 0.86, p < 0.0001) and small sunfish (r = 0.82, p < 0.0001). Annual average Pb concentrations in sucker fillets ranged up to 0.67 microg/g (wet weight basis) and exceeded the World Health Organization guidelines of 0.3 microg/g (wetweight basis) at many of the sample sites. Fillets of bass, which feed at a higher trophic level, had much lower Pb concentrations than either suckers or small sunfish, and no bass fillet samples exceeded the WHO guideline. Whole body Pb concentrations in small sunfish were also determined and correlated strongly (r = 0.92, p = 0.0004) with sediment concentrations before leveling at a maximum of approximately 20 microg/g (wet weight basis).

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