Date Presented

Spring 5-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science


Environmental Science

First Advisor

Priscilla Gannicott, PhD

Second Advisor

Brooke Haiar, PhD

Third Advisor

Nancy Cowden, PhD


The sediment layers of previously identified, impaired sites in the Blackwater Creek watershed in Central Virginia were examined for potentially toxic elements (PTEs). These impaired sites are located in areas with high levels of urbanization or impervious surface cover. Higher urbanization levels should coincide with more environmental degradation, resulting in higher levels of PTEs, such Cu, Zn, and Pb in the sediment cores. The sediment cores were collected, prepared by microwave digestion, and analyzed by MP-AES (microwave-induced plasma atomic emission spectroscopy) for PTE content. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) determined a statistically strong relationship between increased impervious surface cover and higher concentrations of PTEs within the sediment cores. Determining a relationship between sediment makeup and urbanization can be useful in impacting our understanding of water quality and stream health, as well as providing insight on ways to recover impaired watersheds. Although PTE concentration in the sediment is not able to determine a watershed’s health by itself, it is a useful tool when combined with other methods to provide an idea about the PTE load in the sediment and the watershed as a whole. The results from this study may provide a benchmark of PTE concentration in sediments for further research and ongoing monitoring of the Blackwater Creek watershed.