PCBs found in soon-to-be-dredged Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal

Jan 12, 2010

University of Iowa researchers have confirmed that sediments of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal (IHSC) in East Chicago, Ind., are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The IHSC, part of the Calumet River tributary of Lake Michigan, will begin being dredged in the next few years to maintain the proper depth for ship traffic, with uncertain environmental impacts in regard to PCBs. Scientists aren't sure whether dredging will help the situation by removing the potentially harmful compounds or hurt it by stirring them up.

Employing tandem mass spectrometry, an analytical technique to determine the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, the UI researchers found high levels of PCBs. The origin of the PCBs is unknown, but they strongly resemble Aroclor 1248, a potentially that may pose direct health hazards to humans. This mixture was used in , vacuum pumps, plasticizers and adhesives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The presence of PCBs is important because dredging will impact the fate and transport of chemicals," said Keri Hornbuckle, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the UI College of Engineering and corresponding author of the study, published in the journal Environment International.

"It is quite possible that dredging will provide a major improvement in the situation. It may remove PCBs that are available to fish and other wildlife, and reduce the release of PCBs from the sediments," she said. "On the other hand, dredging might increase the availability and mobility of PCBs. Now that we know PCBs are present, these questions are pertinent."

Hornbuckle collaborated on the research with first author Andres Martinez, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering; Karin Norstrom, a postdoctoral student in civil and environmental engineering; and Kai Wang, an assistant professor of biostatistics in the college of public health.

The IHSC is an active canal system that continues to support large vessels. But to remain viable for industrial shipping, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, began a long-term dredging project to restore adequate navigational depth.

Due to years of heavy industrial operation, the IHSC has been contaminated with PCBs. Prior to this study, there was little published data of the spatial extent and concentration magnitude of PCBs in the sediment in IHSC. The Army Corps of Engineers reported that PCBs have existed in IHSC sediment since 1977, but has not published a full report.

The PCB levels found here are comparable to other PCB-contaminated sites in the U.S., most established by law as Superfund Sites, which requires the removal of contaminants from environmental media such as soil, groundwater and sediment. The IHSC is not a Superfund Site.

Explore further: MEPs back plans to slash use of plastic shopping bags

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bacteria That Degrade PCBs Identified

Mar 28, 2007

Researchers have identified a group of bacteria that can detoxify a common type of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have contaminated more than 250 U.S. sites, including river and lake sediments.

Environmental pollutant has sex-skewing effect

Jul 15, 2008

Women exposed to high levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls – a group of banned environmental pollutants) are less likely to give birth to male children. A study published today in BioMed Central's open access journal ...

Tons of PCBs Reaching the Deep Oceans

Oct 17, 2006

Toxic chemicals that have been released into the environment have turned up in some rather unexpected places. And while it has long been known that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other persistent organic pollutants ...

Recommended for you

More, bigger wildfires burning western US, study shows

17 minutes ago

Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last 30 years – a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_B
not rated yet Jan 13, 2010
What, no MTBE yet? Just wait, California spews so much of it it will make it to other states soon.

The USA knows how to poison the ground water just about as well as China.

More news stories

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Is Parkinson's an autoimmune disease?

The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson's disease is still unknown, but a new study proposes that neurons may be mistaken for foreign invaders and killed by the person's own immune system, similar to the ...