SREL Reprint #2509




Ecological half-life of 137Cs in fish from a stream contaminated by nuclear reactor effluents

J. D. Peles1, A. L. Bryan Jr.2, C. T. Garten Jr.3, D. O. Ribble4, and M. H. Smith2,5

1207 Ostermayer Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University-McKeesport, 4000 University Drive, McKeesport, PA 15132, USA
2Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802, USA
3Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Building 1505, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, USA
4Department of Biology, Trinity University, 715 Stadium Drive, San Antonio, TX 78212, USA
5Institute of Ecology, Genetics Department, and School of Forest Resources, University of Georgia,
Athens, GA 30602, USA

Abstract: Radiocesium (137Cs) concentrations were determined during 1974, 1981 and 1998 for seven species of fish inhabiting a stream (Steel Creek) contaminated by effluents from a nuclear reactor to examine the decline of this radionuclide in a natural ecosystem. Median 137Cs concentrations were highest in Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass) during each year of the investigation (1974 = 6.67 Bq g-1 dry wt. of whole body; 1981 = 3.72 Bq g-1; 1998 = 0.35 Bq g-1), but no patterns of differences were observed among Aphredoderus sayanus (pirate perch), Esox americanus (redfin pickerel), Lepomis auritus (redbreast sunfish), L. gulosus (warmouth), L. punctatus (spotted sunfish), and Notropis cummingsae (dusky shiner). Results demonstrated a rapid decline in 137Cs within fish from Steel Creek during the 24-year period. For example, 137Cs concentrations in all fish species declined significantly among years, even after accounting for radioactive decay. The observed percent declines in 137Cs concentrations of individual species were 3-4 times greater between 1974 and 1981 compared to that expected by physical decay alone, and 2-3 times greater during 1981-1998. Ecological half-lives (EHLS) of 137Cs in fish ranged from 4.43 years in A. sayanus to 6.53 years in L. gulosus. The EHL lot for 137Cs in all fish species combined was 5.54 years. Current levels of 137Cs in fish from Steel Creek (1.16 Bq g-1 dry wt. of whole body to below detection limits) indicate that the consumption of fish from this ecosystem poses little risk to humans and sensitive wildlife species. These results demonstrate the importance of incorporating the concept of ecological half-life into determinations concerning the length and severity of potential risks associated with radiocontaminants.

Keywords: Radiocesium; Ecological half-life; long-term decline; Fish; Risk assessment

SREL Reprint #2509

Peles, J. D., A. L. Bryan, Jr., C. T. Garten, Jr., D. O. Ribble, and M. H. Smith. 2000. Ecological half
life of 137Cs in fish from a stream contaminated by nuclear reactor effluents. Science of the
Total Environment 263:255-262.

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