Preliminary Assessment of Nonpoint Source Related Ambient Toxicity in and around Lower Galveston Bay


August 1995


Crocker, Philip A.
Broach, Linda
Hollister, Terry A.
Stockton, David C.
Lane, Willie

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Ecosystems Protection Branch, US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6


In 1991 aquaculture researchers at the old SeaArama facility in Galveston believed that mortality they were observing in their larval shrimp cultures was a result of toxicity of ambient water in the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers utilized near-shore Gulf of Mexico water for rearing larval shrimp. They hypothesized that 2-butoxyethanol was the toxic agent, originating from Galveston Bay waters flowing into the Gulf following heavy rainfall. However, data were not available to support this hypothesis. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) in a combined effort decided to conduct a water quality study to investigate these concerns. The purposes of the study were to assess the potential for ambient toxicity in lower Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico following rainfall events, and to determine the need for additional studies for a more complete assessment. A total of five stations were sampled during three sampling events: (I) November 1992, (II) June 1993 and (III) February 1994. Sampling stations included Galveston Bay near Redfish Reef, Galveston Channel, and near-shore Gulf of Mexico off Galveston Island. Two additional industrialized areas were also sampled, Texas City Ship Channel and Chocolate Bay. An attempt was made to sample following significant rainfall in the Galveston Bay watershed to assess the potential impact of nonpoint source pollution on bay water quality. Ambient surface water samples were collected for chemical analysis of conventional parameters, EPA priroity pollutants (heavy metals, VOCs, semi-volatiles, pesticides and PCBS), and chronic toxicity testing with mysids and inland silversides. Overall, chemical water quality was good for all sites. The chemical analysis yielded no violations of state water quality standards. Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate at the Gulf of Mexico station exceeded the EPA criterion for protection of human health in February 1994, although the significance is doubtful as this is a common lab contaminant. In November 1992 dissolved nickel approached the state's chronic water quality standard at Chocolate Bay. Chronic toxicity data for mysids and inland silversides, although limited, did not indicate signifcant chronic effects to either species. Because this was a screening study data should be considered preliminary. Chemical and toxicity data indicate that aquatic life uses in the open bay areas sampled are not impacted by toxic substances originating from non-point sources. The need for future open bay type nonpoint source surface water studies is considered low. Studies to assess localized and/or episodic effects of urban stormwater discharges and industrial and agricultural runoff (e.g., western near-shore areas of Galveston Bay; Chocolate Bayou upstream of the area sampled in this study) would be of greater value.


17 pages; available for download at the link below.


nonpoint source, pollution, toxicity, water quality