Effects of sewage treatment plant effluents on mollusks and fish of the Clinch River in Tazewell County, Virginia

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Virginia Tech


The Clinch River is renown for its rich mollusk and fish assemblages, including many endemic species. New sewage treatment plants (STP's) have recently been constructed along the Clinch River in Virginia, raising concern because of the disappearance of mollusks below existing STP's. Field and laboratory studies were conducted to determine mollusk and fish distribution in proximity to two STP's in Tazewell County, and the tolerance of two mollusk species to mono chloramine and unionized ammonia, the major toxicants in domestic STP effiuent.

River reaches up to 3.75 km downstream of the STP outfalls at Tazewell and Richlands were depauperate of mussels. Tolerance to effluent seemed to vary among snails, sphaeriid clams, and the Asiatic clam Corbicula flumineaK. After an initial toxic zone below the Tazewell outfall, abundance of fish appeared to increase by 0.45 km below the outfall. The effluent at Richlands eliminated intolerant species, and more tolerant species were present as far as 0.45 km below the outfall.

Laboratory bioassays with glochidia of Villosa nebulosa resulted in 24-h EC₅₀ and LC₅₀ values of 0.042 and 0.084 mg/L monochloramine, respectively, and 24-h EC₅₀ and LC₅₀values of 0.237 and 0.284 mg/L unionized ammonia, respectively. Glochidia rank among the most sensitive invertebrates in their tolerance to these toxicants. The snail Pleurocera unciale unciale was moderately sensitive, with 96-h LC₅₀ values of 0.252 mg/L mono chloramine and 0.742 mg/L unionized ammonia. Comparison of monochloramine and unionized ammonia concentrations monitored at 0.10 km below the outfalls indicated that mono chloramine was the major toxicant likely affecting fauna.