Distribution and partitioning of heavy metals in large anthropogenically impacted river, the Pearl River, China

  • Silan Liu
  • Zhongwei Wang
  • Yuanyuan Zhang
  • Yulong Liu
  • Wei Yuan
  • Ting Zhang
  • Yujie Liu
  • Ping Li
  • Li He
  • Jiubin ChenEmail author
Original Article


In order to evaluate the distribution and partitioning characteristics of heavy metals in the large anthropogenically impacted Pearl River Basin, the contents of “anthropophile” elements (Cr, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd and Pb, which are clearly influenced by human activities) were determined, and their partitioning coefficients (Kd) between water and sediments and enrichment factors (EF) were calculated for samples collected at different locations along the Pearl River main stream. The modified BCR sequential extraction procedure (proposed by the European Community Bureau of Reference in 1993), which involves the successive extraction of metals in a decreasing order of reactivity, was applied. Sediment samples from the upper, middle, and lower reaches were included in this study. The results showed that the content of most metals in water and sediment samples gradually increases from upstream to downstream, suggesting a possible input from human activities as shown by their increasing high EF, ranged from 1.4 to 3.9 for Cu, from 1.4 to 6.7 for Zn, from 2.5 to 59.1 for Cd, and from 1.7 to 8.9 for Pb, respectively. The higher partition coefficients (Kd) for Cr, Zn, and Pb (105–106) indicated that they were mainly transported in solid phase, while parts of Ni, Cu, and Cd were transported in dissolved phase as they display relatively lower Kd in the range of 104–105. According to the results of the BCR leaching, the percentage of non-residual fraction of heavy metals in the sediments showed a decreasing order of Cd > Pb > Zn > Cu > Ni > Cr, implying that Cd and Pb were more active and bioavailable compared to the other four metals, and thus would be potentially more harmful to the watershed ecosystem.


Pearl River Water and sediment Heavy metals Partitioning Distribution 



This study was financially supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (41561134017, U1612442, 41625012, U1301231). Jianfeng Liu, Yina Wang, Zuoying Yin, Ying Zhong, Yuhong Fan, and Benqing He are gratefully thanked for their logistic supports. Philippe Roux is acknowledged for the constructive review. The anonymous reviewer is thanked for the valuable comments, which help to improve the quality of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Science Press and Institute of Geochemistry, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silan Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zhongwei Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yuanyuan Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yulong Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wei Yuan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ting Zhang
    • 3
  • Yujie Liu
    • 1
  • Ping Li
    • 4
  • Li He
    • 5
  • Jiubin Chen
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Environmental Geochemistry, Institute of GeochemistryChinese Academy of SciencesGuiyangChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Surface-Earth System ScienceTianjin UniversityTianjinChina
  4. 4.Fuyuan Environmental Monitoring StationFuyuanChina
  5. 5.Laboratory of Hebei Institute of Regional Geology and Mineral Resources SurveyShijiazhuangChina

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