Legacy Toxics, Look Out!
 


Anacostia River.

Joining the efforts of many in returning the Anacostia River to an ecologically healthy state, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is once again taking the lead on the issue of contaminated sediments, but this time on a much larger scale. DDOE recently announced that it will conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) of the sediments in the entire stretch of the Anacostia River!

What does this mean exactly? Let’s back up a bit first (or skip a couple paragraphs if you have heard this before). For decades the Anacostia has suffered the consequences of heavy industrialization and urbanization resulting in the presence of dangerously high levels of substances that bind to and get trapped in sediments (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - PAHs, polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs, pesticide residues, heavy metals). Authorities in the District of Columbia and Maryland strongly advise the public against swimming in and eating certain fish from the river because of the associated risks posed by toxic substances.


Famous picture of a brown bullhead catfish with a large skin tumor. Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) conducted a study on brown bullhead catfish from 1996 through 2001 and concluded that this species of catfish measuring ~11 inches in length had a 20% chance for males and a 28% chance for females of developing skin tumors. Chances of developing liver tumors were even higher, 43% for males and 78% for females. The good news is that a recent study conducted by USFWS from 2009 through 2011 showed that the odds of catfish developing skin and liver tumors are on the decline; skin tumors decreased by about 40% (though not statistically significant) and liver tumors decreased by about 50%.

More good news, and back to DDOE’s investigation, these harmful substances are being cleaned up (see our website for more information about the cleanups already underway at specific sites). DDOE will be investigating contaminated sediments of the entire Anacostia River, from the confluence of the Northeast Branch and Northwest Branch in Bladensburg, MD to the confluence of the Potomac River in Washington, DC, which is almost 9 miles total. During the investigation they will collect data to characterize the conditions of the site, identify existing sources of contamination, assess risks to environmental and human health, evaluate the extent of the contamination, and evaluate and develop alternative remedial actions needed. If interested in reading DDOE’s Scope of Work for the project and staying up to date with other document releases, please visit their website.

Stay tuned to our blog for more to come. This is a huge step forward for the river and its communities and there will be plenty of opportunity for all to be involved.

 

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