Source monitoring and emissions estimation do not tell us where the pollution goes after it leaves the source, e.g., to areas where many of us may be exposed to it. They do not tell us what physical and chemical forms the pollutants ultimately takes on after they enters the air, water or land. Additionally, they do not measure pollution that may be entering our region from other areas, which is important for air pollution. Monitoring every individual pollution source would present serious logistical and cost issues. We thus also rely upon monitoring the environmental media that transmit pollutants to humans: air, water, land and foods (e.g., fish). In this section we discuss the health-related pollution monitoring data available for each of these four media, beginning with air.
Ambient air monitoring essentially means the monitoring of “the air around us.” Reports such as PennEnvironment’s Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Levels of Air Pollution in 2003 have made use of ambient monitoring data. In this section we first outline the types of pollution tracked, and where and in what format measurements are available. While many pollutants are the same as those tracked through point source monitoring and the TRI, we also give additional explanation for important pollutants not already discussed. We then discuss the details of the measurement systems within our region, to provide a better idea of what these data do and do not tell us. Finally, we discuss some of the weaknesses of existing data, and data are simply not yet available.
The Allegheny County Health Department’s (ACHD) Air Quality Data Reports, now published quarterly along with an annual report, include data gathered from their monitoring sites with annual averages, year-to-date results and long-term trends. Reports for 2002-2004 are available at the ACHD website. Several sources interviewed mention that this information is very valuable, and were concerned that the frequency of releases (formerly monthly) has recently been decreased due to ACHD funding and staffing cuts.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PADEP) annual reports include historical data from all of their monitoring sites. Each year’s report includes a current year data summary and historical trends for the state excluding Philadelphia and Allegheny County. Years 2002 and earlier are accessible through the “annual report” link on the Bureau of Air Quality’s homepage., 
Criteria pollutants are defined above under the Source/Release
section. The Air Quality Index (AQI) reports describe the number of
days per year that combined and specific criteria pollutants measured within
each county were at levels considered good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive
populations, unhealthy, and hazardous. AQI daily reports by county and
for the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical area (MSA, see Appendix
C: Map of Pittsburgh MSA) are available at the EPA AirNow website. The Allegheny County Health
Department (ACHD) submits unofficial data for ozone and PM2.5 to the national
AirNow system on an hourly basis (validated data are submitted later to the
EPA), and also provides AQI levels each hour for continuously monitored pollutants
via phone recording at 412-578-8179. The state PADEP website has AQI
reports for the current 24-hour period, updated hourly, for 12 cities in the
More detailed ambient air quality data are at the Technology Transfer Network Air Quality System site. The AirData site provides access to annual/quarterly summary data for monitoring and emissions estimates, as well as county-level annual AQI reports, and downloads of daily AQI data (over a one-year span for years 1994-2004) by county. For earlier years, e.g., 1994, AQI data are available for only 5 of the 10 counties in the region.
Very small particulate matter (PM), including soot
from coal-fired power plants and diesel exhausts, is a health concern because
it is small enough to enter the innermost cavities of the lungs. The two
sizes monitored and reported under federal law are PM10 (particulate matter
smaller than 10 microns in aerometric diameter) and PM2.5 (particulate matter
smaller than 2.5 microns). Following the EPA’s strengthening of PM2.5
guidelines, several western
Given the presence of several groups focusing upon
air quality endeavors in the region, we likely know more about particulate
matter in Pittsburgh than in most parts of the country. Several years
ago, the EPA and the National Energy Technology laboratory provided funding to
establish a “PM Supersite” in Pittsburgh. The 2000-2004 Pittsburgh Air
The EPA has also provided funding to ACHD for two
PM2.5 “speciation” sites: one on Lawrenceville, and one in Liberty
Borough. Speciation entails additional tests to determine particulate
matter’s component chemical types so that it can potentially be linked back to
a specific source.
Speciation may also uncover different chemicals than were previously known to
exist in that location—this occurred in Liberty Borough. PADEP currently conducts PM
HAPs are defined above under the Source/Release section. Across the country, outdoor monitoring is largely limited to the six criteria pollutants; there are currently fewer than 50 monitoring stations across the entire country that measure outdoor hazardous air pollutants. Federal regulations including the Clean Air Act do not mandate ambient monitoring of these chemicals. The National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), released in 2002, utilized 1996 emissions data to estimate average annual outdoor concentrations for more than 30 HAPs.
Despite the lack of federal ambient monitoring
requirements, the Allegheny County Health Department measures HAPs at three
locations: (1), 48 HAPs are sampled at
Within Allegheny County, the Allegheny County
Health Department (ACHD) monitors ambient air, and reports to the U.S.
EPA. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) also
has one site at the Carnegie Science Center. PADEP covers other
counties in the Pittsburgh region. As illustrated in Figure 4 below, the
vast majority of our region’s criteria pollutant monitors are within
Total Monitoring Locations
Beaver Falls, Brighton Township, Hookstown, Vanport
Charleroi, Florence, Washington
Greensburg, Monessen, Murrysville
*See Appendix G: Map
of Allegheny County Health Department Air Monitors or ACHD’s Air Quality
Reports for a map of
ACHD’s 21 monitoring sites continuously collect data every 10 seconds on the gaseous criteria pollutants, along with benzene, nitric oxide, and hydrogen sulfide. Averages by the minute and hour are compiled; and Air Quality Indices are calculated and reported hourly for particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. Details of pollutants monitored at each site are in ACHD’s Quarterly Air Quality Report Ending December 2004.
The EPA has four major requirements for ambient monitoring sites, which are followed (or exceeded) by the Allegheny County Health Department. The county must have:
· At least one monitor indicating pollution coming in from outside the area (background pollution)
· One monitor placed in the highest concentration area for each criteria pollutant (e.g., ozone)
· At least one monitor near a major source of each criteria pollutant
· At least one community-oriented site, e.g., in a high population area that isn’t necessarily near a source or a location of high pollution concentration.
While ACHD manages all but one ambient air monitoring
station within Allegheny county, PADEP also manages a number of air
monitors throughout the region. See Appendix
E: DEP Pittsburgh Area Ambient Monitoring Sites for additional details.
The pollutants monitored vary by site. As mentioned above, the list
of PADEP sites used to calculate the AQI for the
To link together data from a number of systems including those described above, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has hired several organizations to construct a database of ambient air quality information, collected throughout the Upper Ohio River Valley Region from 1999-2003. While not yet available to the public, the system will ultimately include a web-based interface with a variety of access, analysis, display and report generation tools. More information is available at NETL’s website.
Specific limitations already discussed, e.g., under particulate matter, are not reiterated here.
· Cost limits the number of monitors that can be placed and maintained.
· Given Pittsburgh’s varied topography, combined with the range of dissipation behavior of different airborne pollutants, concentrations can vary greatly within a short distance of a monitoring station. Many air toxics are centered around a source, not spreading out much from them. These will not be detected by distant ambient monitors.
· Given limited resources, there is disagreement regarding the best placement of “community” monitors. For example, if a number of people are living near a large pollution source, is it better to place it there, or in an area that may be more densely populated but further from (or not downwind from) a large pollution source? Many densely populated areas not near a large pollution source aren’t being monitored.
· Nationwide, EPA has found that modeled annual average concentrations are typically lower than measured ambient concentrations.
· Because concentrations can vary greatly between and among monitoring locations, a “regional average” is not necessarily helpful, and no one monitoring station can represent a region. This limits the usefulness of between-city comparisons, which may utilize the measurements of a single monitor from each city.
· Only a handful of regional sites can determine the components of particulate matter.
· Many air toxics (HAPs) are not being measured at all, or only at a very limited number of sites. We still don’t know the degree to which many more complex compounds, especially those that are highly toxic in small quantities, are present in ambient air. This includes PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), many of which are present in coke oven gas.
· Due to difficulties in setting up monitoring systems, the EPA lacked sufficient air quality data to designate PM 2.5 nonattainment sites using 3 years of data until 1999-2001 (and 2000-2002 for many sites).
· The publication frequency of ACHD’s Air Quality reports has been reduced from monthly to quarterly following funding and staffing cuts, and the data are not online in a queryable database format.
· While Air Quality Index Measurements provide a simplified, public-friendly indicator, the monitors upon which they are based do not collect data at every location, and concentrations (and thus human exposure) may vary greatly between monitors.
· AQI-related modeling has its limitations. For example, a large site like Clairton Works may represent a “hot spot” that does not fit estimates and modeling assumptions for a larger area.
· Monitoring of individual chemicals does not measure “cumulative impact,” i.e., how pollutants may build up and mix together to pose a potential threat to our health. This inability to measure cumulative impact also applies to other types of environmental monitoring, as well as source monitoring.
With exceptions (such as when children playing directly in or ingest soil), dangerous substances in soil generally do not become a health risk until they are mobilized via air or water, or absorbed through the roots of plants that humans or other animals eat. In fact, the ground is the original source for numerous naturally occurring toxins (e.g., lead, mercury, coal. From a public health perspective, air and water monitoring data are often more pertinent because they represent more direct paths to the human body. In some cases, however, we may desire land monitoring data because a) there may be exceptionally high concentrations in an area, or toxins that are dangerous even in very small amounts (e.g., sites of former industrial operations, or brownfields), b) activities on a site, such as agriculture, may represent a direct path from land pollution to humans, c) materials in the ground may be a source of gases which easily find their way into our bodies (e.g., radon), or d) the site may near homes or a location of frequent human activity. Here we discuss a few types of health-pertinent data that are more closely related to land than to water or air. Groundwater and wells are discussed under “Water Monitoring,” and data on human-made elements of land such as roads and parking lots are covered under “Built Environment.”
As defined by the EPA, brownfields are “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Brownfields may not pose enough of a public health risk to qualify for remediation funding under the federal Superfund program, but the clean-up costs may be great enough to deter developers. As Bartsch (2003) notes, there are major difficulties in quantifying the extent of brownfields: such words as “potential” make consistency in definition and counting total sites difficult, and the extent of contamination is unknown until a site is actually inspected. Inspections often do not occur until someone purchases or expresses interest in redeveloping a site, and wants a release of liability.
We may be exposed directly to pollutants via groundwater flows carrying toxins into wells, or dust raised during construction and redevelopment. Additionally, children playing on brownfield sites may injure themselves on sharp objects and unsafe structures, come in contact with disintegrating chemical containers, or ingest toxins while disturbing contaminated soil. Brownfield assessment utilizes a risk-based source-pathway-receptor model, where the amount of risk is assumed to be lower where the pollutant has been removed altogether, where the pollutants’ believed path of transmission has been blocked (e.g., by covering a slag heap with several feet of dirt before building upon it), or where vulnerable organisms (e.g., humans) do not come near the site. Ideally, brownfield remediation is done in a way that doesn’t add other negative environmental or health impacts. For example, the Homestead Waterfront covered a great deal of former industrial sites with impervious parking lot surfaces. At Summerset at Frick Park, a slag heap was covered with several feet of dirt before new homes were built atop it.
The Carnegie Mellon University/University of
Pittsburgh Brownfields Center previously maintained a geographic information
systems (GIS) application called “Pittsburgh RISES (Regional Industrial Sites
Evaluation System), with developers as the primary intended audiences.
However, due to lack of funding, this system has not been updated since 2000.
The PA Site Finder
is a “’one-stop-shop’ for brownfield buyers and sellers, and includes more than
250 sites in the
Several information gaps remain regarding the health of individuals near brownfield sites. These include the following:
· The types and volumes of pollutants were emitted by the industries previously operating on a given site are often not available. For long-term nearby residents, this may represent a greater health risk than that from materials still onsite.
· Most existing brownfields data are on a site-by-site basis. For example, we do not know the cumulative or aggregate impacts of numerous sites’ emissions into nearby rivers. Our groundwater monitoring system is not complete enough to determine this.
· We have little information on health risks due to the many materials that leach out of brownfields sites and change upon interacting with other materials, including those from nearby sites with different contaminants.
Illegal dumping threatens our health in many ways. Mosquitoes may breed in old tires, spreading West Nile Virus and other diseases. Toxic chemicals may find their way into stream beds and rivers. Hypodermic needles, prescription drugs and knives pose a threat to children and to homeless individuals who often scavenge and sleep near the sites. When individuals or organizations dump illegally, the burden of assessment and reporting often falls upon groups who actively monitor the environment.
The Allegheny County chapter of PA CleanWays, has a
one-person staff and relies largely upon volunteers. This group recently
conducted an illegal dumpsite survey. In 2001-2002, they identified 141
dumpsites in the City of
Due to lack of data or data connections, many questions about the relationships between illegal dumpsites and health remain unanswered. What types and quantities of chemicals are leeching from illegal dumpsites into the ground and water? Are there clusters of blood borne or respiratory illnesses near the dumpsites? Are there increased emergency room visits for children and families living near dumpsites? What health-related behavioral changes occur following neighborhood cleanups and interventions? What is the relationship between community mental health and illegal dumping? How many of us are at risk due to gardening on sites previously contaminated by illegal dumping?
Quarterly and annual data on municipal and residual
disposal, by county and individual facility, are available at the website of
PADEP’s Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management, Division of Reporting
and Fee Collection.
Reports for 1988 through the first quarter of 2004 include several categories
of waste, including infectious, construction, ash residue and asbestos.
Also at this site is a map and list of 15 landfills and incinerators in the
Certain toxins in the soil (e.g., lead and other
heavy metals) may be absorbed by food crops and then ingested by humans—or by
animals then eaten by humans. This may occur both on large commercial
farming sites as well as on smaller urban farming and gardening sites. In
addition to toxic pesticides and herbicides, toxins could end up in the soil
either from a previous use of the site (e.g., a house with lead paint), or from
cumulative dustfall from nearby sources of air pollution. As to our
knowledge there does not exist a comprehensive database of soil quality for
agricultural sites. For those interested in collecting data for specific
Radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, is
currently one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the U.S. It results
from the natural deterioration of uranium in soil, and may enter homes through
cracks and holes in foundations, or occasionally through wells.
Currently, roughly 40% of
Water monitoring covers a broad range of pollutants, many of which can impact human health directly (e.g., biological pathogens), and many of which have significant but more indirect impacts (e.g., acid mine drainage). Water condition data, such as stream flow and temperature, are helpful for modeling and estimation but are not directly related to human health. Because other very recent works cover a range of water quality data in greater depth, we focus here upon data for a few topics directly related to human health.
Water monitoring is vital because we can come in contact with water-borne pollutants in many ways. We may directly contact river or stream water through recreational use (e.g., children playing in a stream, or families boating on the rivers). Fishers come in direct contact with water, and many of us eat the meat of fish that have absorbed pollutants from the water. We drink water that originates from local surface or groundwater sources, either through water treatment plants or from wells. Statewide, major causes of health-related water contamination include agriculture (e.g., pesticides and waste), urban and stormwater runoff, and human waste from sewer system overflows.
Outside of Allegheny County, most municipal- and county-level organizations in Pennsylvania do not collect water quality data, as the state has primary responsibility for drinking water and sewer system monitoring and regulation. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) enforces the Clean Water Act, issuing permits and determining whether standards are met for three different uses: aquatic life use, human health use (risk posed by consumption of organisms or ingestion of water), and recreational use (risk associated with exposure to disease causing organisms through water contact). The last two uses are directly related to human health. PADEP’s Water Quality Network has more than 140 monitoring stations on streams, rivers, and lakes statewide; stream chemistry data can be accessed through the EPA’s online STORET system.
Within Allegheny County, the state contracts out to ACHD for various aspects of water monitoring. The Three Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Project, a quasi-non-profit entity within ACHD, was created as the result of a negotiated consent decree to address the issue of sewer system overflows. Some of their data are discussed above under the “Area Sources” subsection of “Source/Release.” While a number of non-profit and volunteer groups assist with monitoring efforts and compile data, their efforts are generally in the realm of ecological rather than public health related monitoring.
Because Allegheny County faces several water quality issues, in 2002 the Allegheny County Conference on Community Development (ACCD) requested that the National Research Council (NRC)’s Water Science and Technology Board form a Committee on Water Quality Improvement for the Pittsburgh Region. Their 2005 report, spanning more than 250 pages, states the following in its introduction: “…[I]nadequacies in the type and extent of water quality data available…prevented the committee from assessing the full extent of adverse effects due to pollution. Almost all of the water quality data available …were derived from single studies in specific areas for limited durations. Recently, several agencies have expanded water quality data collection…although there appears to be little coordination…therefore, it is difficult to fully identify the sources of pollution…to assess the extent of adverse effects, and to prioritize remediation efforts.”  They recommend several data-related steps including quantifying water pollution loads and modeling their relationships to water quality, undertaking coordinated basin-wide monitoring (including biological monitoring) and modeling to estimate the amounts and relative impacts of various sources of pollutants entering surface water and groundwater, expanding sewer system and stormwater modeling activities, and integrating assessment and response with PADEP’s process of establishing total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for impaired streams, which is required by the Clean Water Act.
Because we do not know the total flow or concentrations from the numerous sources of contamination, we rely upon ambient monitoring of rivers and streams. This is even more the case given that the states and the federal EPA have shifted regulatory focus from individual point-source dischargers of waste in water to the reduction of overall pollution on bodies of water (total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs). Additionally, rather than try to monitor all potentially harmful microorganisms directly, we usually rely upon “indicator organisms” for pathogen monitoring:
“Members of two bacteria groups, coliforms and fecal streptococci, are used as indicators of possible sewage contamination because they are commonly found in human and animal feces. Although they are generally not harmful themselves, they indicate the possible presence of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, viruses, and protozoans that also live in human and animal digestive systems. Therefore, their presence in streams suggests that pathogenic microorganisms might also be present and that swimming and eating shellfish might be a health risk.” 
An interdisciplinary project within Carnegie Mellon University’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (3R2N) has collected samples along 29 river transects over several years, as well as 53 streams, suggesting that bacteriological problems exist in both rivers and streams. Through this work, they have identified 18 streams with significant water quality issues. The most extreme cases have average concentrations exceeding 400,000 and 80,000 Colony Forming Units per 100ml respectively—to put this in perspective, the PADEP states that “no more than 10% of the total samples taken during a 30-day period may exceed 400 per 100ml.” Some of the 3R2N data, in report and map format, is available on their website.
Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act requires
states to report water quality information gathered under monitoring programs
every two years, and Section 303(d) requires a listing of water bodies that are
“impaired” for aquatic life, human health or recreation. This information
was last reported for
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation commission (ORSANCO) regularly monitors the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Evansville, Indiana for fecal coliform and E.coli. Per-sample data for the 1998-2004 recreational seasons in table format, are available at the ORSANCO website. While the data are queryable by location, month and year, the samples are taken only five times monthly, at six stations, and only during the recreational season. More comprehensive data are described in their “Quality Monitor” reports available at the same website, but as of March 2005 the reports were available for six-month periods only through December 2002.
From July to September 2001, the USGS and the
Allegheny County Health Department tested the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio
Rivers for fecal indicator bacteria. They collected water quality samples
and river discharge measurements at 5 sites on the three rivers during dry,
mixed-, and wet-weather periods. Findings included that specifically
during wet weather events, fecal coliform, E. coli and enterococci
exceeded federal water-quality standards in 56, 71 and 81 percent of samples,
respectively. These data are available at the USGS website.
However, while this study provided useful information on major rivers, it did
not include streams, of which there are over 2000 miles in
Outside of the major limitations outlined at the beginning of this section, several weaknesses and gaps still exist in our base of pathogen indicator monitoring data:
· We do not know the accuracy with which an intermittent sample represents the water body’s overall concentration.
We do not know how often other potentially harmful organisms may or may
not be present when we detect indicator organisms—this is particularly an issue
with viruses and protozoan parasites. The EPA now recommends E. coli
and enterococci as indicator organisms, rather than fecal coliform, as an
indicator because the latter has been found to have a lower correlation with
swimming-associated gastroenteritis. However,
· We do not know how well water transmits certain types of harmful organisms such as viruses.
· Tests directly identifying pathogens such as crypotospordia and ghirardia do not indicate whether they are still alive (and thus pose an actual health risk)—to determine this, additional tests (and costs) would be required.
· Although fecal contamination is very likely to have human sources once it is above a certain level, it can sometimes be difficult to judge whether the source of fecal contamination is human or animal.
Most of us in the Pittsburgh region rely upon
public water services drawing from surface water sources such as the three
rivers, Beaver Run, and Indian Creek. Within
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,
community drinking water utilities are required to test and report water
output. They must mail copies of annual water quality reports (also
called “Consumer Confidence Reports”) to each customer, and are required to
post the reports on a publicly-accessible site only if they serve 100,000 or
While municipal drinking water systems generally do an excellent job of filtering out regulated substances, there are not yet regulations for a large number of chemicals in drinking water that may be harmful; thus, these chemicals are not regularly monitored—this includes such chemicals as perchlorate, the herbicide DCPA (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate), and the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether). We do not know the relative extent to which various hormonal agents and antibiotics are present in the environment, be it in drinking water or elsewhere. Additionally, drinking water plants are not required to apply for permits, which would require them to report their whole process and monitor the various chemicals utilized. Finally, because output monitoring is not continuous, sudden or temporary spikes in chemicals may not show up in the data.
While the other subsections in this section deal with specific types of pollutants, we treat wells separately because they present a significant potential health issue in rural areas. Additionally, in terms of volume, they represent one of the most important direct water exposures to humans.
Even though residents in developed areas rely upon
public water services, nearly one million
The National Research Council’s 2005 report notes
that where data are available, “private wells show significant variability in
terms of microbial contamination, and the effects of mining are apparent in
some areas…” Although there is no recent evidence linking Southwestern
Pennsylvania groundwater quality with any waterborne disease outbreak, “significant
gaps exist in public health monitoring, thus preventing an adequate assessment
of possible endemic waterborne disease occurrences.” According to one
expert, not a great deal is currently known about the behavior of underground
water “plumes” i.e., the geospatial dispersion of underground water, in
In a study mentioned previously, the U.S.
Geological Survey tested groundwater samples from 86 sites near storage tanks
and 359 ambient groundwater samples throughout
Metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury have all been linked to adverse outcomes in humans, including cancer and irreversible neurological damage. The U.S. Geological Survey study described under “Pesticides” collected information on each of these metals, detecting them at varying levels in bed sediment across the region. In that study, bed sediment was sampled not with direct human effects in mind, but because contaminated sediment can negatively effect aquatic life.
From 1994-2000, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected data on surface water and ground water quality through the Allegheny-Monongahela National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA). This included monitoring of water and fish tissue for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, metals such as mercury, and nutrients. Data are available at the study’s website. Due to the size of the study area, only a limited number of sites were in the Pittsburgh region. However, two of these sites were sampled intensively for pesticides—an analysis of one suggested that residential lawn care products, not just agricultural applications, are a significant source for that area.
As mentioned under drinking water source monitoring, we do not yet know the relative extent to which various hormonal agents and antibiotics are present in the environment. Products may enter the environment via human excretion (i.e., when the body does not completely metabolize them), or through the improper disposal of industrial waste. If they are not filtered out via natural or human treatment processes, they may find their way into other people via drinking water or via animals that are eaten by humans. To establish a baseline as part of the “Emerging Contaminants Project,” the U.S. Geological Survey tested water samples from nearly 200 points (streams, wells and effluent samples) nationwide for the following types of substances between 1999 and 2000: human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, industrial and household wastewater products, and reproductive and steroidal hormones. Links to this study and a number of related publications, along with an outline of research needs and gaps, are at the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) as Environmental Pollutants” page.
The Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment is a water quality survey carried out by PADEP that examines toxic substances and quality of waterways. Part of the survey methodology includes fish tissue sampling for PCB’s, selected heavy metals including mercury and lead, and twenty different pesticide compounds. Samples are generally collected during periods of low flow between August and October when reproduction is complete and a full exposure to potential toxins has occurred. For some species, samples are collected in the spring. A normal sample consists of 10 scaled, skin-on fillets from a composite of five individuals of the fish species. The target species is normally a representative, recreationally important species for the water body being sampled, although Channel catfish or bullhead samples consist of 10 skinless fillets and American eel samples consist of five 1-inch sections from each skinned and gutted eel. All fish in the composite should be of the same species and approximate size. Each sample is ground three times, with the tissue mixed between grinding to ensure a homogenous sample. Four packets of tissue are prepared, wrapped in aluminum foil, numbered and refrozen. These four packets are used as follows: one for metals analysis, one for PCB analysis, one for pesticide analysis, and one as backup for re-analysis, if needed. This identifies substances in PA waterways, most of which are in concordance with ATSDR substances.
The water body assessment and data evaluation is a continuous process but not all waterways are included in the DEP’s two-year reporting cycles. Specific waterways are targeted that have either not been assessed, have been identified as impaired and monitoring is used to measure improvement, or are being monitored to reassess no impairment. The 2004 Integrated Report was developed using information from stream and lake surveys and other sources, including DEP’s Statewide Surface Water Assessment Program, the Non-point Source Program, and existing and readily available data submitted by external groups and agencies. The DEP also encourages community-based citizen volunteer monitoring.
Reel Danger: Power Plant Mercury Pollution and
the Fish We Eat was a study carried out by PennEnvironment Research and
Key findings of the study were that all of the fish samples were contaminated with mercury. Fifty-five (55) percent of the fish samples were contaminated with mercury at levels that exceed EPA’s “safe” limit for women of average weight who eat fish twice a week. Seventy-six (76) percent of the fish samples exceeded the safe mercury limit for children of average weight under age three who fish twice a week; 63 percent of fish samples exceeded the limit for children ages three to five years; and 47 percent of the fish samples exceeded the limit for children six to eight years. Eighty (80) percent of the predator fish samples contained mercury levels exceeding EPA’s safe limit for women. In 18 states, 100 percent of the predator fish samples exceeded this limit.
Fishing for Trouble, another report generated by PennEnvironment, indicated gaps in data for EPA mercury advisories to the public. For a number of advisories, states failed to include data on the acreage or number of miles of a water body under advisory. Thus, assuming that EPA’s data is accurate, the calculation for geographic area under advisory by state is an underestimate of the true geographic area under advisory. Some of the EPA data for advisories is missing units (e.g. acres or miles). For purposes of the summary data in the report, it was assumed that if a state listed its other advisories for a specific water body type (e.g. lakes) using specific units (e.g. acres), then the state used the same unit for that type of water body across the state.
Another source of fish tissue samples is the U.S.
EPA’s STORET (short for STOrage and RETrieval) online database.
This system contains data collected beginning in 1999, including
biological, chemical, and physical data on surface and ground water collected
by federal, state and local agencies, Indian Tribes, volunteer groups,
academics, and others. All 50 States, territories, and jurisdictions of the