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Urban Runoff and PAH Monitoring

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Habitat Program Manager:
Stanley D. Rice
(907) 789-6020

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  • Summer increases in PAH loads of a small Alaskan lake used by personal water craft:      Part-A          Part-B

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Traditionally, organisms (mussels) that bio-concentrate organic contaminants such as Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) are used to determine if these compounds are present in specific water bodies. This presents several problems. Separating the organic compounds from tissue lipids is an expensive process, and there is variation in uptake do to the variations in lipid content. There are also difficulties identifying species that can be used along salinity gradients such as found in estuaries.

Recently semi-permeable membrane devices (SPMD) have been used to detect PAH contamination. They are polyethylene bags filled with a lipid which mimics how an aquatic organism such as mussels would concentrate organic contaminants. This provides a time integrated sample in which the lipid in the SPMD can be easily extracted for analysis. Although the SPMDs are cheaper than traditional methods, they are patented and currently only manufactured by one laboratory.

We are currently developing the use of cost effective, low density polyethylene strips (LDPE) without the lipid for monitoring water quality. We have been comparing the results observed in LDPEs & SPMDs  deployed side by side. Initial results indicate that LDPEs perform identically to SPMDs in locations where contaminants are present in low concentrations.

Employing the use of LDPEs has many advantages for habitat management. They allow for an inexpensive survey of a broad area, a standardized matrix for sampling transects across different estuarine habitats, the ability to monitor contaminant dispersal from mixing zones, and contaminant source identification without biometabolism. These devices could easily be deployed to monitor contamination in boat harbors, urban runoff, lakes, streams, and industrial discharge.


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