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Reconstructing the historical pollution levels and ecological risks over the past sixty years in sediments of the Beijiang River, South China

Li, Rui, Tang, Changyuan, Li, Xing, Jiang, Tao, Shi, Yanping, Cao, Yingjie
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.649 pp. 448-460
basins, benthic organisms, cadmium, chromium, copper, environmental quality, iron, iron oxides, lead, mining, nickel, pollution, risk, risk assessment process, rivers, sediments, toxicity, wastewater, zinc, China
Three sediment cores were collected from the Beijiang River to investigate the effects of human activities on the geochemical fractions of trace metals (Ni, Cr, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb and Fe) and to reconstruct the ecological risks for the period 1951–2015. Cd had the highest concentration in exchangeable and carbonate fractions and was probably contributed by smelting wastewater. High Cu, Zn and Pb contents were observed in the iron oxide fraction (mean values of 32.2%, 38.2% and 43.9%, respectively), reflecting the influence of mining activities. Flood events led to coarser sediment grain sizes and higher trace metal residual fractions at upstream sites (S1 and S2). Similar to the mining history of the basin, the excess metal fluxes of Cu, Zn, Pb, and Fe in the 210Pb-dating core (S3) increased slowly from 1951 to 1987, increased rapidly from 1988 to 1998 and decreased gradually after 1999 because of government intervention. However, the excess Cd flux decreased continuously from 1951 to 1961, increased from 1961 to 2005, and declined by approximately 78.2% from 2005 to 2014. The excess Ni and Cr fluxes increased noticeably after 1996 because of the increasing sedimentation rate after the construction of the Feilai Gorge Dam. The enrichment factor (EF) and ratio of secondary and primary phases (RSP) indicated that sediments (S3) were moderately to strongly polluted by Cu, Zn and Pb from 1961 to 2007 and extremely polluted by Cd from 1951 to 2011. Human activities increased the bioavailable metal concentrations and resulted in a high risk of toxicity to benthic organisms, especially during intense mining activity (1990s) and Cd pollution incidents (2005). Cd and Pb were primarily responsible for the sediment toxicity in the Beijiang River. The integrated pollution and risk assessment methods provided a clearer understanding of the aquatic environmental quality.