Heavy metal distribution in sediment profiles of the Pearl River estuary, South China

Xiangdong Li, Wing Hong Onyx Wai, Yok Sheung Li, Barry J. Coles, Michael H. Ramsey, Iain Thornton

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

320 Citations (Scopus)


The Pearl River estuary is created by the inflow of freshwater from the largest river system that drains into the South China Sea. In recent years, massive economic growth and development in the region has led to excessive release of waste into the environment. The accumulation of contaminants in sediments is likely to pose serious environmental problems in surrounding areas. The study of sediment profiles can provide much information on the metal contamination history and long term potential environmental impacts. In this project, 21 core samples (up to 3.65 m deep) were collected in the Pearl River estuary. About 15 subsamples from each core were analysed for moisture content, total organic matter (L.O.I.), particle size and heavy metal and major element concentrations. The results show that Pb and Zn contents are elevated in the sediments at most of the sampling sites. Compared with historical monitoring results, the sediment metal contents have increased over the last 20 a, particularly for Pb. The west side of the Pearl River estuary tends to be more contaminated than the east side due to the contaminants inputs from the major tributaries and different sedimentation conditions. There are close associations between Fe, CO, Ni and Cu concentrations in the sediments. Zinc and Pb contents in the sediment profiles reflect a combination of the natural geochemical background, anthropogenic influences and the mixing effects within the estuary. The distribution of Pb in the sediments shows strong influences of atmospheric inputs, probably from the coal burning activities in the region. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-581
Number of pages15
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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