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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments 6 Analyzing Risks The primary objective for managing PCB-contaminated sediments is the reduction of risk. A critical part of this evaluation is the characterization of existing and potential risks to affected parties. In analyzing risks from PCB-contaminated sediments, the primary focus has been on human health and ecological effects from exposure, the emphasis being on the bioaccumulation of PCBs through the aquatic food web and the human health effects associated with the consumption of contaminated seafood. Risks associated with water consumption and inhalation near contaminated sites are also considered. In addition, PCB contamination might result in economic, social, or cultural impacts to affected parties. These impacts might include loss of a commercial or recreational fishery, decline in property values, reduced commercial opportunities, increased health risks associated with changes from a fish-based to a possibly less healthy diet, and loss of cultural traditions (e.g., the passage of fishing and hunting rites from one generation to the next). Analyzing all the risks associated with PCB-contaminated sediments is a complicated, multifaceted task and is best addressed within a prescribed, methodical framework of an environmental risk assessment (ERA). Although a number of frameworks are available for conducting ERAs (as described in Chapter 3), the committee endorses the application of the general framework developed by the Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management (1997). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments (EPA) guidance for human health and ecological risk assessment (EPA 1997b, 1999) is generally consistent with the commission’s framework and is commonly used in conducting ERAs at PCB-contaminated-sediment sites. This guidance is limited to human health and ecological risk assessment and needs to be extended to explicitly include social, cultural, and economic impacts. This chapter provides an overview of the ERA process and discusses the use and limitations of scientific information in each of the steps of a risk assessment of PCB-contaminated sediments. The steps that are described include exposure assessment to PCBs; ecological effects and human health effects from PCB exposure; PCB risk characterization; social, cultural, and economic impacts of PCB contamination; and comparative risk assessment. A summary of findings and specific recommendations for conducting ERAs at sites with PCB-contaminated sediments are given at the end of this chapter. ENVIRONMENTAL RISK ASSESSMENT ERA provides a process to evaluate the probability that adverse effects are occurring or might occur in the future because of the presence of contamination (see Box 6-1). The framework for this assessment is designed to follow a flexible, tiered approach beginning with a screening-level assessment followed by more detailed evaluations of the site. In this approach, initial or screening-level assessments are used to identify the issues and possibly rebut the presumption of risk. This assessment is typically based on minimal data and very protective assumptions. Three outcomes are possible from this screening-level assessment. First, the screening assessment might indicate that the degree or extent of contamination is sufficiently small to pose no significant risk. Second, the risk might be predicted to be relatively great, but the extent of contamination is sufficiently small to make effective management technically feasible and relatively cost-effective. In such cases, the decision to initiate a particular risk-management strategy or not may be taken without further refinement of the risk assessment. Third, if potential risks cannot be rebutted and the extent of contamination is such that a rapid and effective risk-management strategy cannot be easily identified and applied, a more refined ERA should be conducted. A refined ERA should begin with a baseline assessment to quantify the existing and potential risks associated with PCB contamination as described in this chapter. The baseline risk assessment should be followed by an examination of potential risk-management options (Chapter 7), the development of a risk-management strategy (Chapter 8), the implementation of the risk-management strategy (Chapter 9), and a short- and
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments BOX 6–1 Issues in Environment Risk Assessment The analysis of risk for PCB-contaminated sediments is best addressed within the systematic structure of an ERA. The discussions of risk assessment throughout this chapter largely focus on the following questions: What are the risks posed by PCB-contaminated sediments before and after remediation? What are the populations potentially at risk? What are appropriate assessment endpoints? What are appropriate measurement endpoints? What are the primary exposure pathways of PCBs to the receptors of concern? What site characteristics are most important in affecting PCB exposure? What methods are available for predicting future PCB exposure? What information is available on human and ecological health effects from PCB exposure? How reliable are risk estimates for human and ecological health? How can social, cultural, and economic impacts be incorporated into risk assessments? long-term evaluation of the risk-management strategy to determine if the management goals have been achieved (Chapter 10). The ERA process consists of three steps (problem formulation, analysis, and risk characterization). Problem formulation involves defining the specific contaminants of concern, delineating the areas of concern, and identifying populations potentially at risk and their size. The analysis phase for human health and ecological risk assessments includes an identification of exposure pathways, a characterization of exposures, and an assessment of the relationship between exposures and effects. Finally, the risk-characterization phase involves quantifying overall risks to humans and wildlife. Each of these steps is discussed in further detail below. In this discussion, problem formulation, analysis, and risk characterization are presented sequentially, but the committee emphasizes that the ERA should be considered an iterative process. Information obtained during the analysis or risk characterization can lead to a reevaluation of the problem formulation, new data collection or analysis, or even a reevaluation of the initial problem
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments definition and risk-management goals. Similarly, selection of a management option or the evaluation of risk-management results can lead to a reformulation of the problem and might require additional data collection and analysis, such as congener-specific measurements of PCBs in key receptors or media. The extent to which additional site-specific information is collected should be balanced with the costs of conducting the ERA and the costs of risk management. The committee stresses that references to cost refer not only to monetary costs or risks but also to social and political costs of actions or lack of actions in a timely manner. PROBLEM FORMULATION The problem-formulation stage for PCB-contaminated-sediment sites involves discussions among the various affected parties to identify the specific geographic areas of concern, all possible risks to humans and wildlife from immediate and long-term exposure to PCBs and from remedial activities, the identification and size of the populations potentially at risk, and the possible presence of co-contaminants at the site. This information is used to identify clearly the assessment endpoints, select measurement endpoints, and develop a conceptual model for the site. At most sites with PCB-contaminated sediments, human health assessment endpoints include both carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic effects (e.g., children born with learning dysfunctions). Special consideration should be given to certain sensitive subpopulations, such as women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, and young children. Other populations who eat fish from contaminated water ecosystems on a regular basis might also be at increased risk. Such populations include many American Indian tribes, immigrants from fishing cultures, such as Southeast Asia, and subsistence fishers who rely upon fish as a major source of protein. For ecological assessment endpoints, reproductive success and population sustainability of resident fish, piscivorous and other predatory birds, and marine mammals are often considered. Assessment endpoints are used to select measurement endpoints, for which indirect effects, sensitivity and response time, diagnostic ability, and practicality issues are considered. Measurement endpoints are responses (e.g., litter size in mink) that can be measured more easily than assessment endpoints (e.g., reproductive success in mink) but are related quantitatively or qualitatively to the assessment endpoints. Whenever practical, multiple measurement endpoints should be chosen to provide additional lines of evidence for each assessment endpoint. For example, for humans, it might be possible to measure PCB concentrations in food and in human tissues. For
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments predatory fish, birds, and mammals, it might be possible to measure concentrations of PCBs in prey and in predator tissue. Additional measurement endpoints should be selected to assess effects from other chemicals, from nonchemical stressors (e.g., habitat alterations), and from the proposed remedial actions. If feasible, measurement endpoints should be compared with a reference site that has many of the same characteristics as the study area. Wildlife and humans can be exposed to PCBs either directly from abiotic media, such as sediments, water, or air, or indirectly through diet. As an example, PCBs can enter the food chain by accumulating in benthic invertebrates that are in close contact to the sediments. These invertebrates then can be eaten by other wildlife and thus PCBs accumulate up the food chain. One of the most important aspects of the determination of the potential risk of PCBs to biota is the “food web” or “pathway analysis.” Although exposure to important receptors can be postulated, the best method of assessing the potential for exposure is to measure the concentrations of PCBs in key dietary items. The relative merits of measuring and modeling exposures will be discussed later in this chapter. The primary issue in the exposure assessment is the determination of the biologically available fraction of PCBs that are buried in sediments. PCBs might be buried deep enough in sediments to be below the biologically available zone. Furthermore, PCBs bound to sediments that are in the biologically available zone might be bound in such a manner that they are not biologically available. Specifically, some congeners might be less available because of the nature of their binding to sediment particles (Froese et al. 1998). The movement of PCBs out of sediments is a slow process. Otherwise, the concentrations of PCBs in contaminated sediments would dissipate to a point where they would no longer represent a toxicological risk to wildlife or humans. The slow movement of PCBs from the buried sediments also indicates that the available fraction is relatively small. The goal of the exposure assessment is to discern the fraction of PCBs that are available and the rate of release or movement into the food chain or the transport away from the source. In general, the goal of the exposure assessment is to determine the concentration of each congener that will be accumulated into various levels of a food chain of wildlife species in the vicinity of a location containing PCBs in the sediments. The first step in the exposure assessment is to determine the species most likely to be exposed. As part of the problem-formulation phase, a conceptual model of exposure pathways is developed (see Box 6-2). This conceptual model can then be used to conduct a pathways analysis to determine the level of exposure expected for each trophic level or individual receptor (e.g., see Figure 6–1). These estimates of exposure can be either measured or predicted. In either case, the concentration of PCBs must be measured or predicted in
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments BOX 6–2 Conceptual Model Considerations In preparing a conceptual model of the site, consideration should be given to the following (modified from EPA 1998): Sensitive human populations, including but not limited to the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, infants and children, and people suffering chronic illnesses. Circumstances in which a culturally or economically distinct population is exposed to PCBs. Sensitive and endangered wildlife species and critical habitats exposed to PCBs. Significant point and nonpoint sources of PCBs and any cocontaminants. Potential contaminant release mechanisms (e.g., volatilization, surface runoff and overland flow, leaching to groundwater, and tracking by humans and animals). Contaminant-transport pathways, such as surface-water flow, diffusion in surface water, and bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food web. Cross-media transfer effects, such as volatilization to air and air phase transport. either critical tissues of receptors or their diets. In general, to minimize the uncertainties in predictions, it is suggested to minimize the length of pathways along which predictions are to be made. Ultimately, it should be possible to link concentrations to top predators to concentrations in the sediments. That link is necessary to derive a proposed threshold concentration in sediments. The threshold concentration would be the cleanup criterion for a particular site. Uncertainties in the exposure assessment can be minimized by collecting measured values for certain key parts of the exposure pathways. For instance, measuring concentrations of PCBs in fish can serve as an integrated measure of the biologically available fraction of PCBs in sediments. The concentrations in fish can be used directly by comparing them to dietary toxicity reference values (TRV) or by using them to predict exposures to higher trophic levels. Similarly, the concentrations can be linked to concentrations in sediments with just a few links. The use of measured concentrations of PCBs in fish is suggested as the most relevant means of measuring exposure of receptors to PCBs in contaminated sediments.
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments FIGURE 6–1 Food web with examples of representative species. ANALYSIS PHASE The analysis phase involves characterization of exposure to PCBs and other contaminants and development of quantitative relationships between
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments contaminant concentrations and effects. Both activities involve the evaluation of available scientific data and an assessment of the relevance of the data to assessment endpoints and to exposure pathways. Exposure characterization describes sources of PCBs and other contaminants, their distribution in the environment, and their exposure to ecological and human populations. Characterization of the potential effects on humans and the environment involves the evaluation of PCB dose-response and other contaminant-response relationships or evidence that exposure to PCBs and other contaminants cause an observed response. Quantitative uncertainty analysis is typically performed in the analysis phase. The products of this phase are summary profiles that describe exposure and contaminant-response relationships. For PCBs, the analysis of chemical exposure and contaminant-response relationships is complicated by the fact that PCBs are not a single compound, but rather a complex mixture of congeners whose composition in the environment can be drastically different from the original Aroclor mixtures. The changes in PCB-congener composition result from environmental processes, including differential volatilization, solubility, sorption, anaerobic dechlorination, and metabolism, and are referred to as “environmental weathering.” Environmental weathering of PCBs is an important consideration in determining the fate and effects of PCBs, as presented in Boxes 6-3 and 6-4. Further details of the analysis phase, such as PCB exposure assessment, and human health and ecological effects are presented below. PCB Exposure Assessment The purpose of an exposure assessment is to determine the concentrations of PCBs in various environmental compartments, including sediment, water, benthic invertebrates, and fish, and to evaluate dietary exposures to PCBs of higher trophic level organisms, such as birds, aquatic mammals, and humans. The receptors of interest and the conceptual model for the site serve as the basis for the exposure-assessment studies. The questions to be addressed in the exposure studies are as follows: What are the existing exposure levels of PCBs in the sediments? What are the expected exposure levels of PCBs for each potential risk-management option? An assessment of present exposure is best addressed through direct measurement of PCBs in specific organisms or in their diet. Measurements of PCB effects in organisms may also be used (e.g., fish production or survival).
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments BOX 6–3 PCB Weathering in the Upper Hudson River General Electric used PCB oils in the manufacture of electrical capacitors at plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edwards, New York, from the late 1940s through 1977. Over this time, Aroclor 1242 was the primary PCB oil used in the plant sites. (Late in the production period, General Electric switched from Aroclor 1242 to Aroclor 1016, which is a reformulated version of Aroclor 1242 with a similar congener distribution.) The congener distribution for Aroclor 1242 is shown in panel A of Figure 6–2 and is largely composed of dichlorobiphenyls (BZ 4–15) and trichlorobiphenyls (BZ 16–39) (see Appendix H for list of BZ numbers). During and subsequent to the production period, PCBs were released into the Hudson River, contaminating 200 miles of river from Hudson Falls to New York City. Sediment and fish samples collected in Thompson Island Pool (the first impoundment on the upper Hudson River, a few miles downstream of the General Electric plant sites) are shown in Figure 6–2 and provide a dramatic example of PCB weathering in the environment. The congener distribution for a surface- (0–2 cm) sediment sample in Thompson Island Pool (panel B) shows an enrichment of tetrachlorobipenyls (BZ 40–81) and pentachlorobiphenyls (BZ 82–127) compared with the original Aroclor 1242 mixture. This enrichment of the more-chlorinated-PCB congeners in surface sediments is attributed to the preferential binding of more-chlorinated PCB congeners to sediments. The surface-sediment congener distribution also shows an enrichment in a few of the less-chlorinated congeners, such as BZ 1, 4, and 19, which are known dechlorination endproducts. This enrichment might be due to dechlorination in the surface sediments or particle mixing and diffusion of these congeners from deeper sediments where dechlorination is more pronounced (see panel C). Although the extent of dechlorination is extensive at this location in Thompson Island Pool, it does not appear to be as significant as that at other locations in the Hudson River and at other PCB sites with lower contamination levels. The congener distribution for yellow perch from Thompson Island Pool is shown in panel D. These data indicate that as PCBs from the sediments or from continuing discharges from the plant sites are transferred through the food web, there is a clear shift in the distribution to more-chlorinated congeners. As discussed throughout this chapter, the changes in the congener distributions, which are collectively referred to as environmental weathering, have a profound effect on the transport, fate, bioaccumulation, and toxicity of PCBs and must be explicitly considered in the evaluation of risk.
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments BOX 6–4 Pattern Recognition Principal components analysis was performed on the PCBtotal-normalized concentrations of individual congeners (Figure 6–3) (Froese et al. 1998). A variance of 47% was explained by principal components 1 and 2 (PC1 and PC2). The results of the principal components analysis support the hypothesis that the pattern of relative concentrations of PCB congeners in sediments was different from that in tissues of organisms, including the benthic invertebrates in the sediments. Furthermore, the patterns of PCB congeners were significantly different in the tree swallows than in the benthic invertebrates. This difference indicates that the pattern of relative concentrations of PCBs changes because of such processes as weathering, bioaccumulation, and metabolic processes as the individual congeners move from one trophic level to the next. Environmental weathering changes the relative concentrations of PCB congeners because of differential solubilities, volatilities, and sorption coefficients (Mackay et al. 1983). In addition, metabolism by microorganisms (Mavoungou et al. 1991) and animals (MacFarland and Clarke 1989) can cause relative proportions of some congeners to increase and others to decrease (Boon and Eijgenraam 1988; Borlakoglu and Walker 1989). Mean ratios of lipid-normalized mono- and non-ortho-substituted congeners to total concentrations of PCBs were not significantly different among trophic levels. Concentrations of PCB congeners 110, 81, and 77 were less in bird eggs than in invertebrates. That difference might be due to differential metabolism between birds and invertebrates (Boon et al. 1997). Alternatively, congeners 126, 157, and 156, perhaps due to their more fully occupied meta-positions, did not appear to be metabolized significantly in different biota (Boon et al. 1989). Evaluation of future exposures under natural attenuation or other risk-management options are typically performed using simulation models. This approach would have to include other chemicals if significant co-contaminants are present at the site. Field monitoring and PCB exposure models are discussed below. Field Monitoring Present exposure levels of PCBs (and co-contaminants) are determined by measuring concentrations in relevant environmental media, such as sediments, water, benthic organisms, and fish, and determining dietary exposure rates,
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments FIGURE 6–2 Congener distributions for PCB sources, sediments, and fish in the Upper Hudson River.
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A Risk-Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments PCBs are often found at a site in conjunction with other chemicals of concern (e.g., pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, furans, and metals). Research is needed to determine the interactions among these chemicals and the impact that these interactions can have on site-specific risk assessments and subsequent risk-management efforts. Models used to describe all relevant PCB exposure pathways—from the contaminated sediments, through the aquatic food web, and to specific receptors—must consider exposures to sensitive populations, including but not limited to the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and children; culturally or economically unique populations; and sensitive and endangered wildlife and their habitats. These models, which have inherent uncertainty, require calibration that should be conducted by multiple researchers. It is important that the model results are peer reviewed. REFERENCES Abramowicz, D.A. 1990. Aerobic and anaerobic biodegradation of PCBs: a review. Crit. Rev. Biotechnol. 10(3):241–251. Abramowicz, D.A., M.J.Brennan, H.M.van Dort, and E.L.Gallagher. 1993. Factors influencing the rate of polychlorinated biphenyl dechlorination in Hudson River sediments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 27(6):1125–1131. Ahlborg, U.G., G.C.Becking, L.S.Birnbaum, A.Brouwer, H.J.G.M.Derks, M. Feeley, G.Golor, A.Hanberg, J.C.Larsen, A.K.D.Liem, S.H.Safe, C.Schlatter, F.Wærn, M.Younes, and E.Yrjänheikki. 1994. Toxic equivalency factors for dioxin-like PCBs. Chemosphere 28(6):1049–1067. Ankley, G.T., P.M.Cook, A.R.Carlson, D.J.Call, J.A.Swenson, H.F.Corcoran, and R.A.Hoke. 1992a. Bioaccumulation of PCBs from sediments by oligochaetes and fishes: comparison of laboratory and field studies. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 49(10):2080–2085. Ankley, G.T., K.Lodge, D.J.Call, M.D Balcer, L.T.Brooke, P.M.Cook, R.G.Kreis Jr., A.R.Carlson, R.D.Johnson, G.J.Niemi, R.A.Hoke, C.W.West, J.P.Giesy, P.D.Jones, and Z.C.Fuyin. 1992b. Integrated assessment of contaminated sediments in the lower Fox River and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 23(1):46–63. Ankley, G.T., G.T.Niemi, K.B.Lodge, H.J.Harris, D.L.Beaver, D.E.Tillitt, T.R. Schwartz, J.P.Giesy, P.D.Jones, and C.Hagley. 1993. Uptake of planar polychlorinated biphenyls and 2,3,7,8-substituted polychlorinated dibenzofurans and dibenzo-p-dioxins by birds nesting in the Lower Fox River/Green Bay, Wisconsin. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 24(3):332–344. Bedard, D.L., M.L.Haberl, R.J.May, and M.J.Brennan. 1987a. Evidence for novel mechanisms of polychlorinated biphenyl metabolism in Alcaligenes eutrophus H850. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 53(5):1103–1112. Bedard, D.L., R.Unterman, L.H.Bopp, M.J.Brennan, M.L.Haberl, and C.Johnson.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: