Two different types of lab tests have been conducted to assess how exposure to contaminants in surface water and sediment may affect early life-stages of upper Columbia River white sturgeon.

Once abundant in the area, studies indicate only about 3,000 adult white sturgeon remain from Grand Coulee Dam to Revelstoke, Canada. Of particular concern is that newly hatched sturgeon generally do not survive more than a few weeks.

Native white sturgeon are "bottom dwellers" and are mainly found in the area from Marcus Flats to the Canadian border. This is the same area where stream flow has deposited the greatest quantities of slag (the black, sand-like industrial material containing metals released from smelting operations).

The sturgeon toxicity studies will help determine what sediments and concentrations of metals such as cadmium, copper, and zinc are toxic (acutely and chronically) to early life stages of white sturgeon as compared to rainbow trout; and whether or not sediments from the river represent an unacceptable risk to white sturgeon. Information from these studies will also help to evaluate if surface water concentrations in Lake Roosevelt represent an unacceptable risk to white sturgeon.

Independent of the EPA studies, there is also a White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative that includes American and Canadian natural Photo by David R. Gluns resource managers and scientists. They are looking at a wide range of factors that may be contributing to the decline of white sturgeon. Most importantly, this initiative's goal is to actively restore healthy and sustainable populations of upper Columbia white sturgeon. To learn more about their findings and sturgeon releases, go to

Sediment and Upland Soil Testing

RI/FS field sampling and analysis for the sediment and upland soil environments is projected to begin in 2012.

Sediment testing will expand on work completed in 2005 and will focus on determining if there are unacceptable risks to benthic invertebrates (sediment dwelling insects such as mayflies and worms) and other aquatic life exposed to contaminants of concern. These benthic invertebrates are key components of the aquatic food chain.

Upland soil testing will determine whether contamination released to the air from smelter stacks has resulted in unacceptable risks in soils. This study will help answer several key questions, such as:

  • Is it safe for people to touch, breathe or accidentally ingest soils adjacent to the river/lake?
  • Are the survival, growth or reproduction of insects affected?
  • Can upland soil contaminant concentrations affect the reproduction, growth or survival of birds, mammals, land based invertebrates, plants, reptiles or amphibians?