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The Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site is a former nuclear weapon material production and current research facility located in South Carolina, USA. Wastewater discharges from a fuel and nuclear reactor target manufacturing facility released depleted and natural U, as well as other metals into the Tims Branch- Steed Pond water system. We investigated the current dynamics of this system for the purposes of environmental monitoring and assessment by examining metal concentrations, bioavailability, and trophic transfer of contaminants in seven ponds. Biofilm, detritus, and Anuran and Anisopteran larvae were collected and analyzed for stable isotopes (δ15N, δ13C) and contaminants of potential concern (COPC) with a focus on Ni, U, and Hg, to examine metal mobility. Highest levels of Ni and U were found in biofilms U (147 and 332 mg kg−1 DW, respectively), while highest Hg levels were found in tadpoles (1.1 mg kg−1 DW). We found intraspecific biomagnification of COPCs as expressed through stable isotope analysis. Biofilms were the best indicators for contamination and Anuran larvae with the digestive tract removed were the best indicators of the specific bioavailability of the focal metals. Monitoring data showed that baseline δ15N values differed between ponds, but within a pond, values were stable throughout tadpole Gosner stage, strengthening the case to use this species for monitoring purposes. It is likely that there still is risk to ecosystem integrity as COPC metals are being assimilated into lower trophic organisms and even low levels of this mixture has shown to produce deleterious effects to some wildlife species.
Edwards, Paul G.; Gaines, Karen F.; Bryan, A. Lawrence Jr.; Novak, James M.; and Blas, Susan A., "Trophic dynamics of U, Ni, Hg and other contaminants of potential concern on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site" (2014). Faculty Research & Creative Activity. Paper 251.