Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Joshua Condon, University of Maryland College Park

Class Year: 

Project Title: 

Trace Metal Contaminant Analysis in an Estuarine Sediments and Water, Baltimore Harbor, Maryland


To understand the degree of contamination of Baltimore Harbor and the adjacent estuary, we were requested to quantify trace metals in the sediment and surface water. Trace element concentrations in estuarine waters are extremely low and analysis is complicated by matrix interferences from major elements such as sodium and chloride. For the water samples, we intended to compare a solvent extraction method to separate the metals from the salt matrix with collision cell techniques designed to minimize such interferences. We were not able to finish the solvent extraction method, thus we will focus on the collision cell results. Metals of interest were extracted from sediment samples using microwave-assisted acid digestion. Diluted aliquots were analyzed by ICP-MS. From the resulting data, we looked at total concentrations of these metals in both the sediments and the corresponding water samples and compared the two to find the associated partition coefficients. Certain locations exhibited toxic levels of trace metals in the sediments, but the water itself showed fairly low concentrations across all locations. This research is part of a broader study by the state of Maryland to determine the influence of sedimentation rates on trace metal concentrations for these locations and how future dredging might affect these areas.