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Occurrence, composition and biological risk of organophosphate esters (OPEs) in water of the Pearl River Estuary, South China

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Since the production of brominated flame retardants has been gradually phased out, organophosphate esters (OPEs) are increasingly used as the substitutes. Given their toxicity and water solubility, OPEs may jeopardize the aquatic environment and organisms. Here, we examined the concentration, composition, and biological risk of OPEs in the water collected from the eight major waterways in the Pearl River Delta, a highly industrialized region in China. We found a widespread occurrence of OPEs in this region (∑9OPEs: 134 to 442 ng L−1), dominated by TCPP, TCEP, and TnBP. Halogenated OPEs were dominant over alkyl and aromatic OPEs. The biological risk of OPEs, mainly contributed by TPhP and TnBP, was low (RQ < 0.1). The contamination level of OPEs in the Pearl River Delta was likely associated with the degree of industrial activities. Although OPEs posed low risk to aquatic organisms, more attention should be paid to some OPEs in the future, such as TnBP, due to the high usage and toxicity. Considering the concentrations of OPEs worldwide and their usage, OPEs may become the emerging pollutants of global concern in the next decade.

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The project is supported by Guangzhou University’s 2017 training program for young top-notch personnels (BJ201713) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No. 21477100 and 41303082).

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Correspondence to Qihang Wu or Jonathan Y.S. Leung.

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Shi, Y., Zhang, Y., Du, Y. et al. Occurrence, composition and biological risk of organophosphate esters (OPEs) in water of the Pearl River Estuary, South China. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020).

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  • Biological risk
  • Flame retardant
  • Organophosphate ester
  • Pearl River Estuary
  • Water pollution