Field analysis of PAHs in surface sediments of the Pearl River Estuary and their environmental impacts

Lixia Niu, Qingshu Yang, Pieter van Gelder, Danna Zeng, Huayang Cai, Feng Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Based on a monthly field survey in 2011 of the Pearl River Estuary, the dynamics of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in surface sediments (depth < 5 cm) were explored. The seasonal variations in PAH level and composition were investigated in this study, as well as their environmental behaviors, the role of particles, and source apportionment. The concentration of the sum of 16 priority PAHs (defined as ∑16PAHs) ranged from 0.32 to 1.10 μg/g, while that of the sum of 62 PAHs (defined as ∑tPAHs) varied from 0.83 to 2.75 μg/g. The levels of both the ∑16PAHs and ∑tPAHs peaked in February, although the minimum levels appeared in different months—December and August, respectively. The seasonal difference in the ∑tPAHs was significant (flood season, 7.69 μg/g; dry season, 10.51 μg/g). The 5-ring PAH compound (e.g., perylene) was the most abundant and was responsible for 35% of the total, which implied a terrestrial input source via the Pearl River. Sediment particles were predominantly composed of clayed sand, and sediment PAHs showed a greater tendency to be adsorbed onto the large-sized particles rather than the fine fractions. Total organic carbon (TOC) could considerably facilitate the sediment PAHs. Principal component analysis revealed that vehicle emission sources, petroleum sources, and combustion sources were the major anthropogenic contamination sources. The diagnostic ratios of various individual PAHs were also explored. These findings are particularly useful for understanding the geochemistry of organic pollutants in the complex estuarine environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10925-10938
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Environmental fate
  • Pearl River Estuary
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Source apportionment
  • Surface sediments

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