The sediments of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Georgian Bay were sampled in 2001 and 2002 in order to evaluate the extent of surficial sediment contamination of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and metals. Sediment concentrations of PCBs, OCs, PAHs, and mercury were generally low and up to 2 orders of magnitude less than in Lakes Erie and Ontario. In contrast, concentrations of metals such as arsenic, copper, and nickel were comparable to those in Lakes Erie and Ontario. These elevated Lakes Superior and Huron metal concentrations were attributed to naturally occurring metals within the bedrock, soil, and sediment of the study region. Concentrations of all contaminants were typically below the Canadian Sediment Quality Probable Effect Level (PEL) guidelines. With regard to spatial patterns, most contaminants were focused primarily in the depositional basins and atmospheric deposition was likely the major source of these chemicals to the lakes. The major exception was for metals (not including mercury) whose patterns were also influenced by natural sources as well as extensive mining activity. A comparison between surficial sediment contamination of samples collected as part of this survey and those collected in the late 1960s/early 1970s using similar methods showed that concentrations of DDT, PCB, lead, and mercury were generally similar between these two time periods. These results are not consistent with production and usage patterns that have declined substantially in the past 3 decades. We hypothesize that the lack of temporal trends is an artifact due to slow sediment accumulation rates as well as differences in analytical protocols between the two time periods.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1