Parking-lot pavement sealants recently have been recognized as a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban stream sediments in Austin, Texas. Laboratory and field studies have shown that PAHs in sediments can be toxic to aquatic organisms and can degrade aquatic communities. After identifying increases in concentrations of PAHs in sediments below seal-coated parking lots, we investigated whether the increases had significant effects on stream biota in 5 Austin streams. We sampled sediment chemistry and biological communities above and below the point at which stormwater runoff from the parking lots discharged into the streams, thus providing 5 upstream reference sites and 5 downstream treatment sites. Differences between upstream and downstream concentrations of total PAH ranged from 3.9 to 32 mg/kg. Analysis of the species occurrence data from pool and riffle habitats indicated a significant decrease in community health at the downstream sites, including decreases in richness, intolerant taxa, Diptera taxa, and density. In pool sediments, Chironomidae density was negatively correlated with PAH concentrations, whereas Oligochaeta density responded positively to PAH concentrations. In general, pool taxa responded more strongly than riffle taxa to PAHs, but riffle taxa responded more broadly than pool taxa. Increases in PAH sediment-toxicity units between upstream and downstream sites explained decreases in taxon richness and density in pools between upstream and downstream sites.
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