Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 36, pp 36604–36614 | Cite as

From headwaters to estuary: distribution, sources, and ecological risk of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in an intensively human-impacted river, China

  • Yanan Li
  • Xiaomei Zhen
  • Lin Liu
  • Chongguo Tian
  • Xiaohui Pan
  • Jianhui TangEmail author
Research Article


Located in the Shandong Province, North China, the Xiaoqing River is heavily contaminated by industrial wastewater and domestic sewage. However, it plays a significant role with regard to irrigation for agriculture in the river basin. In this study, spatial distribution, sources, and the ecological risk of aqueous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the Xiaoqing River Basin were investigated from the headwaters to the estuary. Fifteen USEPA priority PAHs (except naphthalene) were quantified in water particulate and soluble phases and in sediment samples. Σ15PAHs concentrations in the sediment varied from 17.15 to 3808.01 ng/g dry weight (dw), with an average of 988.72 ng/g dw, suggesting severe pollution of the Xiaoqing River in comparison with other rivers worldwide. The composition of PAHs was characterized by the high abundance of 4-ring and 5-ring PAHs in sediments and 2-ring and 3-ring PAHs in water. Industrial wastewater is a significant source of PAHs. In the river section, point source was the main factor affecting the distribution of PAHs, while in the estuary region, estuarine turbidity maximum zone (ETM), riverine flow and discharge, and its hydrodynamic parameters play more key roles on PAH levels. Molecular diagnostic ratios have proved that PAHs in sediments were derived from mixed sources, primarily a combination of several combustion processes. Toxicity equivalency concentrations (TEQs) and Ecological risk assessment by Sediment Quality Guidelines indicated that PAHs in sediments might have certain unfavorable effects on ecosystems in certain sites.


PAHs Xiaoqing River Water sediment partition Turbidity maximum zone Ecological risk 



This study was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA11020402, XDA11020305 and KZZD-EW-14), and the National Science Foundation of China (No. 41773138).

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3379_MOESM1_ESM.docx (624 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 624 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Coastal Environmental Processes and Ecological Remediation, Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesYantaiPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry, Guangzhou Institute of GeochemistryChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina

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