Nutrients and heavy metals in legacy sediments: concentrations, comparisons with upland soils, and implications for water quality

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Lutgen A., G. Jiang, N. Sienkiewicz, K. Mattern, J. Kan, and S. Inamdar. 2020. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 56(4): 669–691.


Concentrations of nutrients and heavy metals in streambank legacy sediments are needed to estimate watershed exports and to evaluate against upland inputs. Concentrations of nutrients and heavy metals were determined for legacy sediments in 15 streambanks across northeastern Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware. Samples were collected from multiple bank depths from forested, agricultural, urban, and suburban sites. Analyses were performed for fine (<63 μm) and coarse sediment fractions. Nutrient and heavy metal concentrations were significantly higher in fine than coarse legacy sediments and water extractable nutrient concentrations were significantly greater for fine sediments. Nutrient and heavy metal concentrations were highest in streambank legacy sediments associated with urban land use, but few differences were found with bank depth. Total N (40–3,970 mg/kg) and P (25–1,293 mg/kg) and bioavailable P (0.25–48.8 mg/kg) concentrations for legacy sediments were lower than those for reported for upland soils. This suggests that legacy sediments could serve as sink or source of N and P depending on the redox conditions and stream water nutrient concentrations. However, despite low concentrations, caution should be exercised since streambank erosion and legacy sediment mass loadings could be high, these sediments are in immediate proximity of aquatic ecosystems, and biogeochemical transformations could result in release of the nutrients.