Sediment-water distribution of contaminants of emerging concern in a mixed use watershed

David J. Fairbairn, M. Ekrem Karpuzcu, William A. Arnold, Brian L. Barber, Elizabeth F. Kaufenberg, William C. Koskinen, Paige J. Novak, Pamela J. Rice, Deborah L. Swackhamer

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72 Scopus citations


This study evaluated the occurrence and distribution of 15 contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in stream water and sediments in the Zumbro River watershed in Minnesota and compared these with sub-watershed land uses. Sixty pairs of sediment and water samples were collected across all seasons from four stream sites for over two years and analyzed for selected personal care products, pesticides, human and veterinary medications, and phytoestrogens. Spatial and temporal analyses indicate that pharmaceuticals and personal care products (urban/residential CECs) are significantly elevated in water and/or sediment at sites with greater population density (>100people/km2) and percentage of developed land use (>8% of subwatershed area) than those with less population density and land area under development. Significant spatial variations of agricultural pesticides in water and sediment were detectable, even though all sites had a high percentage of agricultural land use. Seasonality in CEC concentration was observed in water but not in sediment, although sediment concentrations of three CECs did vary between years. Average measured non-equilibrium distribution coefficients exceeded equilibrium hydrophobic partitioning-based predictions for 5 of the 7 detected CECs by at least an order of magnitude. Agreement of measured and predicted distribution coefficients improved with increasing hydrophobicity and in-stream persistence. The more polar and degradable CECs showed greater variability in measured distributions across different sampling events. Our results confirm that CECs are present in urban and agricultural stream sediments, including those CECs that would typically be thought of as non-sorptive based on their log Kow values. These results and the observed patterns of sediment and water distributions augment existing information to improve prediction of CEC fate and transport, leading to more accurate assessments of exposure and risk to surface water ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)896-904
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (012-A2) as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). We thank McGhie Betts, Inc. (Rochester, MN) for the technical support on watershed characterization; Dr. Megan Kelly (Water Resources Science, University of Minnesota) for her assistance with sampling and sample analysis; and Dr. Gary Oehlert (Department of Statistics, University of Minnesota) for his advice on statistical design and analysis.


  • Agriculture
  • CEC
  • PPCP
  • Sediment
  • Surface water
  • Urban


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