Trends of Chlorinated Organic Contaminants in Great Lakes Trout and Walleye from 1970 to 1998

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Courtesy of Springer

Levels of chlorinated organic contaminants in predator fish have been monitored annually in each of the Great Lakes since the 1970s. This article updates earlier reports with data from 1991 to 1998 for lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and (Lake Erie only) walleye (Sander vitreus) to provide a record that now extends nearly 30 years. Whole fish were analyzed for a number of industrial contaminants and pesticides, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), dieldrin, toxaphene, and mirex, and contaminant trends were quantified using multicompartment models. As in the past, fish from Lakes Michigan, Ontario, and Huron have the highest levels of PCBs, DDT, and dieldrin; Superior has the highest levels of toxaphene; and Ontario has the highest levels of mirex. In the period after curtailment of chemical use, concentrations rapidly decreased, represented by relatively short half-lives from approximately 1 to 9 years. Although trends depend on both the contaminant and the lake, in many cases the rate of decline has been decreasing, and concentrations are gradually approaching an irreducible concentration. For dioxin-like PCBs, levels have not been decreasing during the most recent 5-year period (1994 to 1998). In some cases, the year-to-year variation in contaminant levels is large, mainly because of food-web dynamics. Although this variation sometimes obscures long-term trends, the general pattern of a rapid decrease followed by slowing or leveling-off of the downward trend seems consistent across the Great Lakes, and future improvements of the magnitude seen in the 1970s and early 1980s likely will take much longer.

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