A Model for the Presence of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in the Willamette River Basin (Oregon)

2008-08-15T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Bruce K. Hope
The Willamette River drains a 32,000 km2 basin (Basin) in northwestern Oregon. Owing to their persistence and toxicity, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in resident fish within the Basin at levels above consumption advisory thresholds are a human and environmental health concern. This concern may trigger a Willamette River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for PCBs, at which time both their probable sources and the mechanism by which they came to be distributed throughout the Basin will be of considerable regulatory interest. Deposition within the Basin of some portion of global primary (1930−1980) and secondary (post-1980) emissions arriving via long-range advective transport in the atmosphere was posited as an explanation. This proposition was explored with a seasonally responsive, dynamic mass balance watershed-scale model that estimated concentrations of toxicologically relevant congeners (PCB-077, -118, -169) in various environmental media over a 90-year period, assuming advective inflow to the Basin’s atmosphere to be the only PCB congener source. Model results suggest that rising air concentrations, and associated advective inflows, from increasing primary emissions between 1930 and 1975 (PCB-118 peak inflow, 1970, ≈11 kg y−1) and declining primary and secondary emissions thereafter, could have yielded congener concentrations observed in air, soil, and fish between 1993 and 2003. The possibility that observed concentrations may be obtainable entirely with inputs from global legacy sources raises questions as to the efficacy of a TMDL directed primarily at local point or area sources. Better characterization of potential sources, and collection of additional soil and air data combined with more sophisticated modeling, appear to be necessary precursors to any PCB TMDL for the Willamette River.