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Keywords:

  • Geochemical marker;
  • Biogenic source;
  • Sewage pollution;
  • Fossil fuel combustion;
  • South China

Abstract

Multiple geochemical markers, including aliphatic hydrocarbons (n-alkanes), linear alkylbenzenes (LABs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were employed to relate sediment organic chemical pollution in the coastal zone off South China to socioeconomic development there. Concentrations of Σn-C15-35 (n-alkanes with 15–35 carbon atoms), ΣLAB (sum of C10 to C13 LABs), and Σ26PAH (sum of 26 PAH compounds) ranged from 110 to 3,160, 11 to 160, and 26 to 600 ng/g, with medians of 730, 40, and 230 ng/g, respectively. Natural hydrocarbons were mainly derived from terrestrial higher plant waxes, and in minor amounts from aquatic plankton and bacteria. Compositions of LABs indicated that considerable amounts of poorly treated wastewater had been directly discharged or transported to the eastern and western coastal areas of Guangdong Province. In addition, anthropogenic hydrocarbons were derived largely from vehicular emissions and combustion of domestic coal and biomass and to a lesser extent from oil spills. Eastern and western coastal sediments contained higher levels of LABs but lower levels of PAHs than those of the Pearl River Estuary, a coastal area of the Pearl River Delta. This spatial pattern of organic pollution was consistent with chemical use patterns. The eastern and western regions of Guangdong Province are economically less developed than the Pearl River Delta region, where more domestic wastewater treatment plants have been built. However, greater amounts of energy are consumed in the latter region to produce more combustion-derived PAH contamination. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:312–319. © 2012 SETAC