Temporal and spatial variability of PCB concentrations in lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in Lake Superior from 1995 to 2016

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Production of polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) was banned over 40 years ago in the United States and Canada, but they remain a dominant contaminant in Great Lakes fish. Although PCB concentrations in Great Lakes fish have declined since the 1980s, there is concern that the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. Canadian and U.S. national agencies monitor trends in fish contaminants at only a few sites in each lake, while states and provinces monitor fish at more locations. In this study, we compare fish PCB measurements made by five agencies at multiple locations in order to evaluate spatial as well as temporal patterns in Lake Superior. For several monitoring locations, rapid increases and decreases in concentrations were observed. The wide range of concentrations (up to 1000 ng/g) reported among all stations in any single year is unlikely to result solely from differences in fish preparation or analytical techniques. Recent measurements indicate that spatial variation in fish PCB concentrations exists with peak concentrations 30-fold higher than lowest concentrations. After 1995, statistically significant changes, all declines, in PCB concentrations were observed at only three of seven locations; half-lives in these locations ranged from 9 to 14 years. Differences in diet and food web structure likely contribute both to the spatial variability of concentrations within the lake as well as to the rapid, short-term changes in concentrations at single sites that make long-term trends difficult to discern and to predict.

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Journal of Great Lakes Research