Significant advances in analytical instrument techniques present a great opportunity for the RMP to conduct broad non-targeted scans of San Francisco Bay biota to potentially identify chemicals of emerging concern. Recent advancement in GC-GC time of flight and GC-LC time of flight at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has allowed NIST to screen human samples to determine which contaminants are accumulating in humans. NIST will apply a similar broad scan approach to San Francisco Estuary samples to identify previously unmonitored anthropogenic chemicals. While labor intensive, this approach has the potential to direct our monitoring efforts to the chemicals that are accumulating in biota, rather than conducting extensive and expensive monitoring of biota without an indication that the contaminants are bioaccumulating.

Because different organisms have different potentials to bioaccumulate and to metabolize contaminants, we will collect pooled samples of bivalves as part of the RMP 2010 bivalve monitoring effort and pooled harbor seal samples as part of our collaborations with The Marine Mammal Center and Environment Canada. In addition, because contaminants have different physical and chemical properties, they will different affinities for lipids, blood, and tissue. As a result, all three matrices will be analyzed for in seals.

Applicable RMP Management Questions

This study will address the following RMP Management Question:

  • Are chemical concentrations in the Estuary at levels of potential concern and are associated impacts likely?

It will also focus on some of the main questions of the Emerging Contaminants workgroup:

  • Which chemicals have the potential to impact humans and aquatic life and should be monitored?
  • What potential for impacts on humans and aquatic life exists due to contaminants in the Estuary ecosystem?


The project was divided into a two-year effort. The first year (2010) was aimed at:

  1. developing protocols for the collection of samples from dead, stranded harbor seals and mussels for analysis;
  2. developing analytical methods for the screening of harbor seal liver and blubber for non targeted compounds;
  3. applying the methods to the screening of harbor seal blubber and liver from dead, stranded harbor seals for chemical contaminants.

In 2010, seal and mussel samples were collected from San Francisco Bay and sent to NIST.

The effort in the second year will build on the year 1 effort. The major tasks for year 2 are as follows.

  1. Develop methodology for the analysis of mussel tissues by GC-GC TOF/MS
  2. Apply methods to the screening of mussel samples from San Francisco Bay
  3. Build library of new chemicals to augment existing library
  4. Quantify nontarget compounds

Staff Involved

This project will be led by Meg Sedlak (SFEI) and John Kucklick (NIST).

Programs and Focus Areas: 
Clean Water Program
Location Information