Exhaustive Screening of Long-Term Pollutants in Riverbank Sediments of the Wurm River, Germany

  • Lukas Hagemann
  • Michael Buchty-Lemke
  • Frank Lehmkuhl
  • Jannika Alzer
  • Eberhard Andreas Kümmerle
  • Jan Schwarzbauer


Fluvial sediments can act as archives for long-term pollution. However, in environmental studies, often only preselected contaminants and, therefore, only a limited part of the pollution are considered. Herein, geochemical investigations of riverbank samples of the Wurm River (catchment < 400 km2) depict the anthropogenic impact of the city Aachen (250,000 inhabitants) to its main outlet resulting in an exhaustive list of present pollutants including their concentrations. The study is based on 14 riverbank sediment samples at eight sampling sites on a 7.6-km-long segment of the Wurm River. The sediment samples were analyzed for grain size composition (laser diffraction particle size analyzer), total organic carbon (TOC), trace element inventory (X-ray fluorescence), and organic compounds (chromatography-mass spectrometry). Here, we report quantitative data for 71 persistent organic substances as well as six trace elements (Cu, Zn, As, Ba, Hg, and Pb) entering the Wurm River due to domestic and industrial emissions. In general, a slight decline of, e.g., PTEs, DDX, and PCB concentrations with decreasing sampling depth points to a steady improvement of conditions. Whereas no clear trends can be seen for organic pollutants along the investigated reach with increasing distance to the main source of pollution (Aachen city). As obtained concentrations for organic pollutants indicate a rather low level of pollution, trace element values exceed geogenic background values by far. Furthermore, we used selected compounds as time markers for a rough estimation of sedimentation rates. Obtained values point to a highly complex morphodynamic regime with changing sedimentation rates (0.6 to 3.0 cm a−1) within barely 100 m of river course.


Riverbanks Sediments Organic pollutants Trace elements Small rivers Source apportionment 


Funding Information

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support by the German Research Foundation (Grant Numbers LE730/33-1 and SCHW750/18-1).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lukas Hagemann
    • 1
  • Michael Buchty-Lemke
    • 2
  • Frank Lehmkuhl
    • 2
  • Jannika Alzer
    • 1
  • Eberhard Andreas Kümmerle
    • 3
  • Jan Schwarzbauer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and CoalRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Department of GeographyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Safety and Radiation Protection, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany

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