The geochemistry of coprostanol in waters and surface sediments from Narragansett Bay

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A geochemical study of coprostanol (5β-Cholestan-3β-ol) was undertaken, to examine the transport and fate of a compound of moderate polarity and reactivity in the marine environment, and also because of the interest in coprostanol for use as a sewage tracer. During 1985-86, 20 sites in Narragansett Bay, including the major point sources and rivers discharging into the bay estuary, were sampled at four different times. In addition, surface sediments from 26 stations in the bay were collected. The large number and diversity of samples allowed for an assessment of major inputs of sewage into the bay as well as the recent fate of sewage-derived particles in surface sediments. Results from the study revealed that 50% of the total particulate coprostanol entering the bay was discharged into the Providence River, primarily due to inputs from the wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) at Fields Point, as well as input from the Pawtuxet and Blackstone Rivers. In the lower bay, the Newport WWTF was the largest single source of coprostanol (37% of the total particulate coprostanol) to the bay. Effluent concentrations of coprostanol from secondary WWTFs were consistently lower than those of primary treatment facilities, demonstrating the usefulness of corporstanol as an indicator of treatment plant efficiency. The distribution of coprostanol in waters and surface sediments showed a gradient of decreasing concentration downbay. When coprostanol concentrations in surface sediments were normalized to organic carbon (OC) concentrations, elevated levels were seen only in the Providence River, with a more or less even distribution throughout the rest of the bay. Results also suggest that coprostanol degrades more rapidly in the water column compared to the petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), however, it is relatively stable once it is buried in the sediments. Coprostanol concentrations in waters (0·02-0·22 μg 1-1) and surface sediments (0·22-33 μg g-1) were as high or higher than values reported in the literature, indicating that the estuary is impacted by sewage. © 1992 Academic Press Limited.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science