Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018DC198B

Using zebrafish to determine biological water health at Anacostias Bladensburg Waterfront Park

Institute: District of Columbia
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $9,581 Total Non-Federal Funds: $20,226

Principal Investigators: Victoria Connaughton

Abstract: In the heart of our nations capital lies one of the ten most contaminated rivers in the United States, the Anacostia1. Once a popular center for trade and commerce, the Anacostia has earned itself the colloquial title of Americas Forgotten River2. Rapid urbanization, industrial activity and runoff have all played a role in transforming the River from a biologically rich, healthy ecosystem to an ecologically threatened environment facing extensive pollution all in a period of only 400 years3,4. In recent decades, numerous research groups and government agencies have documented the extensive pollution that now plagues the region, but few have examined the biological health of organisms residing within the watershed, or the resulting impacts on human health in the surrounding DC community. The current study aims to examine some of the biological consequences brought about by the extensive pollution known to impact the Anacostia waterway. In particular, building on recent research in our lab regarding water quality and fish health, we propose to continue our bioassay work in zebrafish to determine the biological impact of Anacostia River contaminants on fish reared in Anacostia water samples. While our initial study examined contaminants in water obtained from a historically contaminated site opposite the Washington Navy Yard, we propose expanding the study to include sampling at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Historically exhibiting superior water quality to the Washington Navy Yard, Bladensburg offers a unique comparison site at the head of the tidal Anacostia, just downstream of where the Northeast and Northwest Branches converge. In this expansion of our work, we will perform 3 sets of experiments. First, water quality analysis will be performed on Bladensburg water samples to identify the major bioactive contaminant(s) in the samples. Following this chemical analysis, zebrafish eggs/larvae/juveniles will be reared in water samples taken from the Bladensburg Park site so that changes in growth, survival, behavior, and anatomy can be determined across a developmental timeframe (fertilization to 30 days postfertilization). These experiments will be conducted in the lab to allow for improved tracking of anatomical and behavioral effects. Finally, a follow-up set of controlled experiments will directly expose zebrafish to the predominant contaminant(s) in the water samples identified in the first phase of the study. These findings will be compared with the results from our current study with Navy Yard water allowing us to: (1) determine water quality and the relative number of pollutants at different regions of the Anacostia, (2) determine biological impacts of exposure to primary contaminants at the Bladensburg site and (3) compare biological health across different regions of the Anacostia. Our use of zebrafish for these experiments allows us to refine a repeatable bioassay that can be used to measure health of the Anacostia without disturbing local fish populations, while providing information on health impacts of contaminant exposure in a well-known, well-studied model organism.