Chemical contaminants, health indicators, and reproductive biomarker responses in fish from rivers in the Southeastern United States

Jo Ellen Hinck, Vicki S. Blazer, Nancy D. Denslow, Kathy R. Echols, Robert W. Gale, Carla Wieser, Tom W. May, Mark Ellersieck, James J. Coyle, Donald E. Tillitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and common carp (Cyprinus carpio) were collected from 13 sites located in the Mobile (MRB), Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee (ARB), Savannah (SRB), and Pee Dee (PRB) River Basins to document spatial trends in accumulative chemical contaminants, health indicators, and reproductive biomarkers. Organochlorine residues, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin-like activity (TCDD-EQ), and elemental contaminants were measured in composite samples of whole fish, grouped by species and gender, from each site. Mercury (Hg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were the primary contaminants of concern. Concentrations of Hg in bass samples from all basins exceeded toxicity thresholds for piscivorous mammals (> 0.1 μg/g ww), juvenile and adult fish (> 0.2 μg/g ww), and piscivorous birds (> 0.3 μg/g ww). Total PCB concentrations in samples from the MRB, ARB, and PRB were > 480 ng/g ww and may be a risk to piscivorous wildlife. Selenium concentrations also exceeded toxicity thresholds (> 0.75 μg/g ww) in MRB and ARB fish. Concentrations of other formerly used (total chlordanes, dieldrin, endrin, aldrin, mirex, and hexachlorobenzene) and currently used (pentachlorobenzene, pentachloroanisole, dacthal, endosulfan, γ-hexachlorocyclohexane, and methoxychlor) organochlorine residues were generally low or did not exceed toxicity thresholds for fish and piscivorous wildlife. TCDD-EQs exceeded wildlife dietary guidelines (> 5 pg/g ww) in MRB and PRB fish. Hepatic ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) activity was generally greatest in MRB bass and carp. Altered fish health indicators and reproductive biomarker were noted in individual fish, but mean responses were similar among basins. The field necropsy and histopathological examination determined that MRB fish were generally in poorer health than those from the other basins, primarily due to parasitic infestations. Tumors were found in few fish (n = 5; 0.01%); ovarian tumors of smooth muscle origin were found in two ARB carp from the same site. Intersex gonads were identified in 47 male bass (42%) representing 12 sites and may indicate exposure to potential endocrine disrupting compounds. Comparatively high vitellogenin concentrations (> 0.35 mg/mL) in male fish from the MRB, SRB, and PRB indicate exposure to estrogenic or anti-androgenic chemicals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-557
Number of pages20
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Feb 15 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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