Contaminants in tropical island streams and their biota

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Abstract

Environmental contamination is problematic for tropical islands due to their typically dense human populations and competing land and water uses. The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico (USA) has a long history of anthropogenic chemical use, and its human population density is among the highest globally, providing a model environment to study contaminant impacts on tropical island stream ecosystems. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, historic-use chlorinated pesticides, current-use pesticides, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and metals (mercury, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and selenium) were quantified in the habitat and biota of Puerto Rico streams and assessed in relation to land-use patterns and toxicological thresholds. Water, sediment, and native fish and shrimp species were sampled in 13 rivers spanning broad watershed land-use characteristics during 2009–2010. Contrary to expectations, freshwater stream ecosystems in Puerto Rico were not severely polluted, likely due to frequent flushing flows and reduced deposition associated with recurring flood events. Notable exceptions of contamination were nickel in sediment within three agricultural watersheds (range 123–336 ppm dry weight) and organic contaminants (PCBs, organochlorine pesticides) and mercury in urban landscapes. At an urban site, PCBs in several fish species (Mountain Mullet Agonostomus monticola [range 0.019–0.030 ppm wet weight] and American Eel Anguilla rostrata [0.019–0.031 ppm wet weight]) may pose human health hazards, with concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consumption limit for 1 meal/month. American Eel at the urban site also contained dieldrin (range < detection-0.024 ppm wet weight) that exceeded the EPA maximum allowable consumption limit. The Bigmouth Sleeper Gobiomorous dormitor, an important piscivorus sport fish, accumulated low levels of organic contaminants in edible muscle tissue (due to its low lipid content) and may be most suitable for human consumption island-wide; only mercury at one site (an urban location) exceeded EPA's consumption limit of 3 meals/month for this species. These results comprise the first comprehensive island-wide contaminant assessment of Puerto Rico streams and biota and provide natural resource and public health agencies here and in similar tropical islands elsewhere with information needed to guide ecosystem and fisheries conservation and management and human health risk assessment.

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