Evaluation of potentially toxic elements’ (PTEs) vertical distribution in sediments of Gafsa–Metlaoui mining basin (Southwestern Tunisia) using geochemical and multivariate statistical analysis approaches

  • Faten KhelifiEmail author
  • Houda Besser
  • Yosra Ayadi
  • Guijian Liu
  • Balal Yousaf
  • Samia Harabi
  • Sana Bedoui
  • Karim Zighmi
  • Younes Hamed
Original Article


The present study represents a preliminary geochemical investigation concerning the vertical distribution of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) in the sediments of an industrial site in Gafsa–Metlaoui mining basin of phosphate using multivariate statistical analysis. It attempts to outline the possible source of the PTEs and their relation with soil texture, soil profile and human activities. Consequently, 14 sub-samples were collected from a sediment core of 30 cm depth. The PTEs ranged as follows: Zn > Cd > Cr > Pb with mean concentrations of 194.5, 26.92, 13.42 and 8.07 mg kg−1, respectively. Pearson’s correlation matrix showed positive correlations between Zn, Cd, P2O5, CaO, SiO2 and total organic carbon except for Pb and Cr, which seem to be interrelated, although they correlated negatively with all parameters. The principal component analysis (PCA) extracted three principal components representing 87.25% of the total variance. Similarly, hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA) confirmed the results obtained by the PCA, classifying the analyzed parameters into three different groups. The obtained data imply that PTEs concentrations in the study area are influenced by various factors such as anthropogenic and lithogenic sources. Zn, Cd, P2O5, CaO, SiO2 and organic matter (OM) probably have the same anthropogenic origin related to the phosphate industry, while Cr and Pb share the same natural source. The sediment contamination assessment proved that the samples of the study area are “heavily polluted” with Cd, “moderately” to “heavily polluted” with Zn and “not polluted” with Cr and Pb.


Sediment contamination Geochemical investigation Potentially toxic elements (PTEs) Multivariate statistical analysis Phosphate industry Gafsa–Metaloui mining basin 



The authors are thankful to the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the improvement of the manuscript. The authors would like to express their profound gratitude to all the members of the International Association of Water Resources in the Southern Mediterranean Basin, Gafsa, Tunisia, for their assistance during the field work and the laboratory staff of the Faculty of Sciences of Gafsa, University of Gafsa, Tunisia. We acknowledge the cooperation of the Company of Phosphate of Gafsa CPG-Tunisia.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Sciences of BizerteUniversity of CarthageBizerteTunisia
  2. 2.Research Unity of Geo-Systems, Geo-Resources and Geo-Environments (3G), Faculty of Sciences of GabèsUniversity of GabèsZrigTunisia
  3. 3.International Association of Water Resources in the Southern Mediterranean BasinGafsaTunisia
  4. 4.CAS-Key Laboratory of Crust-Mantle Materials and the Environments, School of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiPeople’s Republic of China
  5. 5.University of Ferhat AbbasSétifAlgeria
  6. 6.Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Sciences of GafsaUniversity of GafsaGafsaTunisia

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