Geomorphological assessment of sediment contamination in an urban stream system

Bruce L. Rhoads, Richard A. Cahill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is known about the influence of fluvial-geomorphological features on the dispersal of sediment-related contaminants in urban drainage systems. This study investigates the relation between reach-scale geomorphological conditions and network-scale patterns of trace-element concentrations in a partially urbanized stream system in East-Central Illinois, USA Robust statistical analysis of bulk sediment samples reveals levels of Cr, Cu, Pb, Ni, and Zn exceed contamination thresholds in the portion of the watershed in close proximity to potential sources of pollution-in this case storm-sewer outfalls. Although trace-element concentrations decrease rapidly downstream from these sources, substantial local variability in metal levels exists within contaminated reaches. This local variability is related to reach-scale variation in fluvial-geomorphic conditions, which in turn produces variation in the degree of sorting and organic-matter content of bed material. Metal concentrations at contaminated sites also exhibit considerable variability over time. Analytical tests on specific size fractions of material collected at a highly contaminated site indicate that Cr and Ni are concentrated in the 0.063 to 0.250 mm fraction of the sediment. This fraction also has elevated concentration of Zr. SEM analysis shows that the fine sand fraction contains shards of stainless steel within a matrix of zircon sand, an industrial material associated with a nearby alloy casting operation. Samples of suspended load and bedload at the contaminated site also have elevated amounts of trace metals, but concentrations of Ni and Cr in the bedload are less than concentrations in the bed material, suggesting that these trace elements are relatively immobile. Off the other hand, amounts of CU and Zn in the bedload exceed concentrations in the bed material, implying that these trace metals are preferentially mobilized during transport events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-483
Number of pages25
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Geomorphological assessment of sediment contamination in an urban stream system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this