Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 8410–8420 | Cite as

Temporal variation and regional transfer of heavy metals in the Pearl (Zhujiang) River, China

  • Gengchong Zhen
  • Ying Li
  • Yindong Tong
  • Lei Yang
  • Yan Zhu
  • Wei Zhang
Research Article


Heavy metals are highly persistent in water and have a particular significance in ecotoxicology. Heavy metals loading from the Pearl River are likely to cause significant impacts on the environment in the South China Sea and the West Pacific. In this study, using monthly monitoring data from a water quality monitoring campaign during 2006–2012, the temporal variation and spatial transfer of six heavy metals (lead (Pb), copper (Cu), cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), and mercury (Hg)) in the Pearl River were analyzed, and the heavy metal fluxes into the sea were calculated. During this period, the annual heavy metal loads discharged from the Pearl River into the South China Sea were 5.8 (Hg), 471.7 (Pb), 1524.6 (Cu), 3819.6 (Zn), 43.9 (Cd), and 621.9 (As) tons, respectively. The metal fluxes showed a seasonal variation with the maximum fluxes occurring from June to July. There is a close association between metal fluxes and runoff. The analysis of the heavy metal transfer from the upstream to the downstream revealed that the transfer from the upstream accounted for a major portion of the heavy metals in the Pearl River Delta. Therefore, earlier industry relocation efforts in the Pearl River watershed may have limited effect on the water quality improvement in surrounding areas. It is suggested that watershed-based pollution control measures focusing on wastewater discharge in both upstream and downstream areas should be developed and implemented in the future.


Pearl River Heavy metals Temporal variation Cross-regional transfer Coastal area 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41571484).

Supplementary material

11356_2016_6077_MOESM1_ESM.doc (74 kb)
Table S1 (DOC 73 kb)
11356_2016_6077_MOESM2_ESM.doc (40 kb)
Table S2 (DOC 40 kb)
11356_2016_6077_MOESM3_ESM.doc (530 kb)
Figure S1 (DOC 529 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gengchong Zhen
    • 1
  • Ying Li
    • 2
  • Yindong Tong
    • 3
  • Lei Yang
    • 1
  • Yan Zhu
    • 1
  • Wei Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Environment and Natural ResourcesRenmin University of ChinaBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Health, College of Public HealthEast Tennessee State UniversityJohnson CityUSA
  3. 3.School of Environmental Science and EngineeringTianjin UniversityTianjinChina

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