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Project: Occurrence and Fate of Emerging Contaminants in Coastal Habitats

Background and Objectives

In situ data on contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) remain scarce. Due to the sheer numbers of different CECs, focused investigations are needed on the occurrence of suspected toxicants, in order to determine how widespread these contaminants are in the coastal environment. This project sought to characterize the occurrence of brominated flame retardants, industrial, commercial and personal care products and current use pesticides throughout the Southern California region.


This project was initiated in 2007 and completed in 2012.


Passive water column samplers, along with surface and sediment core samples and tissue samples from native bivalves (collected in the Mussel Watch program), marine/estuarine fishes, and marine mammals, were analyzed for several classes of CECs. These included PBDEs and other flame retarding chemicals, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), and current use pesticides (CUPs).


PBDEs and nonylphenol, an industrial detergent component, were detected in flatfish that frequent offshore POTW wastewater effluent outfalls (Figure 1). PBDEs in blubber of California sea lions stranded along the Los Angeles and Orange County coastlines between 1993 and 2006 were among the highest reported to date (Figure 2). Several pyrethroids were detected in estuarine sediments from a 303(d) listed impaired waterbody (Figure 3). Estimated toxic units associated with pyrethroid levels strongly suggest that they are a major contributor of toxicity in these sediments.

Figure 1. Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and nonylphenol are comparable to legacy pollutants such as DDTs and PCBs in flatfish collected near five Southern California ocean wastewater outfalls.
Figure 2. ΣPBDE (μg/g wet or lipid weight, mean ± SD) in blubber of California sea lion, Pacific harbor seal, and northern elephant seal pups (< 1 y) stranded along the Los Angeles and Orange County (CA) coastlines between 1994-2006. Means with different letters are significantly different (p = 0.05).
Figure 3. Levels of pyrethroid insecticides in estuarine sediment from a 303d listed urban waterway explain their toxicity to benthic invertebrate test organisms.


Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts
City of Los Angeles
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)
California State University Long Beach


PBDEs in the Southern California Bight (Video) - January 2009 presentation to SCCWRP member agencies. Summarizes current knowledge of PBDE levels and details future research directions.

D Vidal-Dorsch, S Bay, K Maruya, J Kwon, K Xia, and K Armbrust. November 2008. Organic contaminants of emerging concern in sediments and flatfish near marine outfalls. SETAC North America 29th Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL.

For more information on Coastal Occurrence & Distribution, contact Keith Maruya at (714) 755-3214.
This page was last updated on: 7/1/2014