Projects > Studies
and Information About York's Rivers, Maine > Toxics &
toxins in rivers are the result of historical or current land uses
that involve toxic chemicals, or the result of air-borne contamination.
A newcomer to York might ask questions such as: Are there any
Superfund sites in the York River watershed? Other toxic discharges?
Historical sites that might have contributed sediment contamination?
short answer is that the York River is in fairly good shape.
There are no SuperFund sites or large industries currently polluting,
and early industry does not seem to have left behind a legacy of
heavily contaminated sediments, although there is some contamination.
The highest level of contamination is PAHs - poly-aromatic hydrocarbons.
from roadways and parking lots, as well as possible spills of marine
fuels or oil, are likely the largest sources of toxic contamination
to the York River.
Nothing is known about upstream sediment contamination, although
there is also little disturbance to those sediments.
What is the toxic impact to the river from I-95 and other roadways?
conjunction with the dredging of York Harbor, the Army Corps of
Engineers has sampled sediments from the areas to be dredged. This
is required, so that care can be taken with contaminants during
the dredging itself and for disposal. Although some contaminants
have been found -- Poly-Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH's) and some metals
-- the harbor sediments are clean enough that they have been allowed
to go to ocean disposal off Cape Arundel.
were taken in preparation for dredging in 1972, 1979/80, 1989, and
1994. Technology for testing has changed over this time; accordingly,
the most sophisticated testing was done in 1994. The tests looked
for pesticides, PCBs, PAHs, metals. Apparently did not test for
butyltins (from marine paints); this is another potential source
of contamination in the harbor.
1994 tests showed pesticides below detectable limits. Metals were
detectable, but the Army Corps analysis did not indicate that the
levels were high or of concern. Finally, PAHs were concentrated
enough in two sampling locations to trigger the Army Corps to request
further biological testing.
1994 biological tests looked at toxicity of sediments (2 samples
from York Harbor, a "reference" sample from the disposal site off
Cape Arundel, and a clean "control" sample from Manchester Harbor
in Massachusetts. The tests concluded that the sediments were acceptable
for ocean disposal, based on the survival rates of amphipods, marine
clams, and marine worms.
with any environmental parameters, interpretation is key. Some of
these toxics occur naturally in small doses. Some do not. Some non-naturally
occuring toxics are now found world-wide in small concentrations.
In interpreting the data, you might ask: how might this level of
contamination prevent our desired uses for the York River/Harbor;
how significant are the levels of contamination; what could we do
to prevent contamination; what should we do with the knowledge that
the sediments are somewhat contaminated?
further interpretation of these results are desired, possible resources
include: the Army Corps of Engineers, Maine DEP, the Maine Coastal
Program, or the Maine Toxics Action Coalition / Natural Resources
Council of Maine. Each of these organizations may have a different
perspective on how much of any toxin is acceptable in the environment.
Army Corps of Engineers: Phil Nimiskern 978-318-8660 or Ed O'Donnell.
978-318-8375. 1-800-343-4789. Portland DEP Office: Doug
Burdick, 207-822-6322. Maine Toxics Action Coalition 1-800-287-3245.
these reports do not include sampling sites in the York River, they
are useful as models for future study, and to put the Army Corps
results into context, within Maine and nationally.
Casco Bay Estuary Project, Katherine Groves.207-780-4820.
that use regulated toxic chemicals are required to report their use
and discharges to the EPA. Much of this data is available on-line
through EPA's Surf Your Watershed.
A survey of this information reveals that the York River watershed
does not have Superfund sites, nor are there known toxic discharges
or waterwater treatment plants. Of course, companies and homeowners
are still using and discharging toxic chemicals such as pesticides,
chlorine bleach, motor oil, and gasoline -- but there are no large
single-point sources of pollution.
Toxic Pollution in Casco Bay. Casco Bay Estuary Project.
1996. Summarizes findings for Casco Bay, tested in the early 1990s
for approximately 25 toxic pollutants including PCBs, dioxins,
heavy metals, and pesticides. This report also puts the results
into context: gives numbers for what is considered "high" on a
Dirty History of Portland Harbor. Casco Bay Estuary Project.
1994. Traces sediment pollution to historical land uses, especially
early factories and mills. Could be useful place to start for
linking historic uses to possible contaminants.
data for the York River watershed is classified at the federal level
along with the data for the Piscataqua watershed (which has many
more discharges, both air and water).
Surf Your Watershed Data
for the Piscataqua-Salmon Falls watershed (which in broad, federal
cataloguing units, includes the York River).
Internet resource for use of toxics is the Scorecard
website. You can search by zip code, to find out what companies are
releasing toxics into the air or water. A search on York County
reveals relatively few polluters in the York area, and none in the
York River watershed itself.
to the Toxics Release Inventory, as developed by the Environmental
to the Index.