By Catherine Crowell
Faculty Mentor: Professor Tyler Frankel
The Chesapeake Bay, one of the largest estuary systems on the east coast of the United States, has numerous coal-burning power stations located along its waterways. Coal ash, or fly ash, is a form of industrial waste that is mainly produced by coal-burning power stations and is known to be enriched with trace metals that are at high risk for leaching into waterways, resulting in the presence of these contaminants within aquatic environments. Few studies have examined the distribution of trace metals in the James River watershed, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, and the implication of a coal-burning power station located in its upper reaches. Thus, the goal of this study was to evaluate the spatial and temporal distribution of trace metals in both water and sediments within the James River in the vicinity of the Chesterfield power station (Richmond, VA). Water and sediment samples (grab and core) were collected upstream, midstream, and downstream from the Chesterfield power station. The samples were analyzed using ICP-OES (a spectrometer used for analyzing environmental samples for trace metals) for the concentration of twelve trace metals including Al, As, Cd, Ca, Cr, Cu, Fe, Pb, Mg, Mn, Se, and Zn. The preliminary results of water and grab samples show high concentrations of trace metals downstream as well as behind the power station near Dutch Gap Conservation Area. Cadmium concentrations in the water (0.005-0.017 ppm) exceeded the EPA’s MCL’s for drinking water. Complete water and sediment cores samples analyses will provide a clearer picture of trace metals spatial as well as temporal variability and loading at the study site. This study will provide vital information regarding the potential impacts of coal-burning repositories on the presence and mobilization of trace contaminants within aquatic ecosystems and their future impacts on terrestrial and aquatic organisms.