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Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in estuarine waters can adversely affect biota but watershed sources can be difficult to identify because these compounds are transient. Natural bacterial assemblages may respond to chronic, episodic exposure to SVOCs through selection of more organotolerant bacterial communities. We measured bacterial production, organotolerance and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) mineralization in Charleston Harbor and compared surface sediment from stations near a known, permitted SVOC outfall (pulp mill effluent) to that from more pristine stations. Naphthalene additions inhibited an average of 77% of bacterial metabolism in sediments from the more pristine site (Wando River). Production in sediments nearest the outfall was only inhibited an average of 9% and in some cases, was actually stimulated. In general, the stations with the highest rates of bacterial production also were among those with the highest rates of PAH mineralization. This suggests that the capacity to mineralize PAH carbon is a common feature amongst the bacterial assemblage in these estuarine sediments and could account for an average of 5.6% of bacterial carbon demand (in terms of production) in the summer, 3.3% in the spring (April) and only 1.2% in winter (December).

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