State Water Resources Research Institute Program


Project ID: 2012SC80B
Title: Effects of Water Pollution on Fish Health in the Savannah River
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 5/01/2012
End Date: 4/30/2013
Congressional District: SC-003
Focus Categories: Water Quality, Toxic Substances, Surface Water
Keywords: conservation, environmental risk assessment, biomarkers, fish toxicology, point sources, non-point sources
Principal Investigators: van den Hurk, Peter; Paller, Michael H.
Federal Funds: $ 29,931
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 66,034
Abstract: In 2009 the Savannah River was ranked in the top ten of America's most contaminated rivers by Environment America, a leading conservation organization. Because of the major economic impact this river has on surrounding counties and states, water quality and ecosystem health are of great concern. The Savannah River provides a large number of services, like providing drinking water, supporting recreational activities (fishing and boating), supply of cooling water and dilution and natural cleansing of liquid wastes from industries and waste water treatment plants. Some major industrial manufacturing plants discharge their wastewater on the river in the Augusta area, in addition to contaminants originating from other point sources like wastewater treatment plants and non-point sources like urban run-off and atmospheric deposition. Also, legacy contaminants discharged by the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site are still of concern in the middle part of the river. The lower, estuarine part around the city of Savannah receives contaminants from a number of effluent discharging point sources.

Over the last decade, several studies have investigated the concentrations of heavy metals like mercury and selenium in the Savannah River ecosystem. These studies have led to fish consumption advisories, especially because of elevated mercury levels in fish fillets. However, nothing is known about the concentrations and effects of organic pollutants in the Savannah River. Given the knowledge about the sources, these pollutants may contribute significantly to poor fish health in the river. We propose to sample largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and sunfish species (Lepomis sp.) to investigate the effects of pollutants on the health of these top predator species. Fish health will be assessed through measuring a suite of health parameters that include somatic indices, tissue histology, blood and bile analysis and expression of detoxifying enzymes and proteins in liver.

Thus, the main objective is to obtain a current overview of the exposure to, and health effects of environmental pollutants on fish species in the Middle Savannah River. This will provide critical information to environmental managers and conservation organizations, and creates a venue to educate local interest groups about the health of the river. In addition, the project will create opportunities to involve high school, undergraduate and graduate students in applied environmental research, and it will create a new research collaboration between environmental investigators from Augusta State University, the Savannah River National Laboratory and Clemson University.

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