Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in Galveston Bay, Texas: Comparing concentrations and profiles in sediments, passive samplers, and fish

Elias M. Oziolor, Jennifer N. Apell, Zach C. Winfield, Jeffrey A. Back, Sascha Usenko, Cole W. Matson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The industrialized portion of the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) is heavily contaminated with anthropogenic contaminants, most prominent of which are the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This contamination has driven adaptive evolution in a keystone species for Galveston Bay, the Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis). We investigated the geographical extent of PCB impacts by sampling 12 sites, ranging from the heavily industrialized upper portion of the HSC to Galveston Island. At each site, PCB concentrations and profiles were determined in three environmental compartments: sediment, water (polyethylene passive samplers), and fish tissue (resident Gulf killifish). We observed a steep gradient of PCB contamination, ranging from 4.00 to 100,000 ng/g organic carbon in sediment, 290–110,000 ng/g lipid in fish, and 4.5–2300 ng/g polyethylene in passive samplers. The PCB congener profiles in Gulf killifish at the most heavily contaminated sites were shifted toward the higher chlorinated PCBs and were highly similar to the sediment contamination profiles. In addition, while magnitude of total PCB concentrations in sediment and total fish contamination levels were highly correlated between sites, the relative PCB congener profiles in fish and passive samplers were more alike. This strong correlation, along with a lack of dependency of biota-sediment accumulation factors with total contamination rates, confirm the likely non-migratory nature of Gulf killifish and suggest their contamination levels are a good site-specific indicator of contamination in the Galveston Bay area. The spatial gradient of PCB contamination in Galveston Bay was evident in all three matrices studied and was observed effectively using Gulf killifish contamination as an environmentally relevant bioindicator of localized contamination in this environment. We find a strong gradient in chemical contamination in Galveston Bay stemming from the Houston Ship Channel and present Gulf killifish as a model for studying localized contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-618
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Bioavailability
  • Fundulus grandis
  • Gulf killifish
  • Houston ship channel
  • PCBs
  • Polyethylene passive samplers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical/analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fundulidae
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Fishes/metabolism
  • Animals
  • Texas
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls/analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology


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