Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 19, Issue 10, pp 3608–3619 | Cite as

Distribution, risk assessment, and source analysis of heavy metals in sediment of rivers located in the hilly area of southern China

  • Jinying Xu
  • Ligang Xu
  • Lilin Zheng
  • Baogui Liu
  • Jinfu Liu
  • Xiaolong WangEmail author
Sediments, Sec 1 • Sediment Quality and Impact Assessment • Research Article



River sediment, the important sink and source of heavy metals, can provide critical information for aquatic ecosystem health. Heavy metal pollution has been a serious problem facing river systems worldwide and can adversely affect human beings via the food chain. However, no comprehensive study has been conducted on heavy metal pollution in sediments of river systems in the hilly area of southern China, which plays a key role in water supply and ecosystem balance. This study is aimed at comprehensively studying the pollution status of heavy metals in river sediments in the hilly area of southern China and apportioning sources.

Materials and methods

A total of 39 superficial sediment samples were collected from the upstream, midstream, and downstream of 13 rivers (Xiangjiang River, Zishui River, Yuanjiang River, and Lishui River located in Hunan Province; Ganjiang River, Xinjiang River, Fuhe River, Raohe River), and Xiushui River located in Jiangxi Province; Qiantangjiang River and Oujiang River located in Zhejiang Province; Minjiang River and Jiulongjiang River located in Fujian Province) in the hilly area of southern China. The total concentrations of metals of Mn, Zn, Cr, Co, Ni, Cu, As, Cd, Sb, Pb, and V were analyzed using the inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry method. The pollution status and potential ecological risk were assessed with the geoaccumulation index (Igeo), sediment quality guidelines (SQGs), and potential ecological risk index (RI). The source apportionment of heavy metals was performed by correlation analysis and principle component analysis (PCA).

Results and discussion

Results indicated that Mn, Zn, and Pb concentrations were significantly higher than other metals, especially in the upstream of the Jiulong River and midstream and downstream of the Xiangjiang River. Pollution assessment indicated that Cd pollution of sediments was most serious and that more than 50% of sampling sites were significantly polluted, with a very high potential ecological risk. The rivers in Hunan provinces (HN) were identified as the priority controlled rivers because of the high Igeo and RI index values. Correlation and PCA analysis indicated that Mn, Pb, and Zn originated from natural and mineral exploitation activities; As, V, Ni, and Sb originated from industrial wastewater and mineral-smelting activities; Cu and Co originated from agricultural activities; Cr and Ni originated from natural sources. While the most polluted Cd came from a combination of multiple sources described above.


Results indicated that Cd was the most common heavy metal pollutant, especially in river sediments of Hunan Province. Anthropogenic activities have become the main source of heavy metals in the river sediments of the hilly area of southern China. Special attention should be paid to Cd, and measures must be taken to prevent from further anthropogenic influence on heavy metal pollution.


Heavy metals Health risk assessment Hilly area River Sediment Source apportionment Southern China 



This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA19050502) and STS (Science and Technology Service Network Initiative) Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KFJ-STS-ZDTP-011).

Supplementary material

11368_2019_2341_MOESM1_ESM.docx (528 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 528 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Watershed Geographic Sciences, Nanjing Institute of Geography and LimnologyChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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