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White Phosphorus Contamination of Salt Marsh Pond Sediments at Eagle River Flats, Alaska.

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In 1990 we proved that an annual waterfowl dieoff involving thousands of waterfowl at Eagle River Flats ERF, a 1000-ha estuarine salt marsh at Ft. Richardson, Alaska, was due to the ingestion of highly toxic particles of white phosphorus that entered the bottom sediments of shallow ponds as a result of training with white-phosphorus smoke munitions. The anoxic conditions of the bottom sediments preserved the normally highly reactive white phosphorus. In 1991 we delineated the extent of white phosphorus contamination in the ponds of Eagle River Flats and further investigated the biological effects of WP contamination. Over 360 sediment samples were collected from six ponds where ducks were observed to feed and become sick and where carcasses of poisoned waterfowl were found. These ponds cover about 50 ha of the 1000-ha salt marsh. Sediment and tissue samples were analyzed for white phosphorus by gas chromatography. White phosphorus was found in 101 surface sediment samples and in sediment cores to depths of 20 cm. The distribution and highest concentrations of white phosphorus were localized in two of the six feeding pond areas, covering about 15 ha. We hypothesize that these two areas represent the major sources of waterfowl poisoning in ERF. While the locations in ERF where various species of waterfowl become sick showed close correlation with white phosphorus contamination in the sediments, dead waterfowl were also found in uncontaminated areas of ERF. No WP was found in over 300 gizzards of ducks harvested by hunters from various Cook Inlet marshes. Alaska, Wetlands, Munition residues, White phosphorus, Waterfowl.

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  • Water Pollution and Control

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