Potential source contributions and risk assessment of PAHs in sediments from the tail-reaches of the Yellow River Estuary, China: PCA model, PMF model, and mean ERM quotient analysis


Principal component analysis (PCA), positive matrix factorization (PMF), and the mean effects range-median quotient (MERM-Q) models were employed to determine occurrence levels, sources, and potential toxicological significance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in surface sediments of the Yellow River Estuary, China. Due to the grain size of sediments, cumulative effects, and distribution of oil fields, the total concentration of the 16 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) priority PAHs (T-PAHs) measured in sediments along transects in the offshore area was 119.51 ± 39.58 ng g−1 dry weight (dw), which is notably higher than that measured in rivers (75.00 ± 12.56 ng g−1 dw) and estuaries (67.94 ± 10.20 ng g−1 dw). PAH levels decreased seaward along all the studied transects in coastal Bohai Bay. Multivariate statistical analyses supported that PAHs in sediments were principally derived from coal and biomass combustion, oil pollution, and vehicular emissions. Based on the MERM-Q (0.0050 ± 0.0017), PAHs were at low potential of ecotoxicological contamination level. These results provide helpful information for protecting water resources and serving sustainable development in Construction of Ecological Civilization in the Yellow River Delta.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  1. Bandow N, Altenburger R, Streck G, Brack W, (2009) Effect-Directed Analysis of Contaminated Sediments with Partition-Based Dosing Using Green Algae Cell Multiplication Inhibition. Environ. Sci. Technol. 43:7343–7349

  2. Boonyatumanond R, Wattayakorn G, Togo A, Takada H (2006) Distribution and origins of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in riverine, estuarine, and marine sediments in Thailand. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 52:942–956

  3. Brown G, Maher W (1992) The occurrence, distribution and sources of polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons in the sediments of the Georges River estuary, Australia. Org. Geochem. 18:657–668

  4. Chaineau CH, Morel JL, Oudot J (1997) Phytotoxicity and plant uptake of fuel oil hydrocarbons. J. Environ. Qual. 26:1478–1483

  5. Dai L, Li WJ, Zhao CZ, Zhai TT (2016) Evaluation of industrial competitiveness in the Yellow River Delta High Efficiency Eco Economic Zone based on the principal component analysis. Ecological Economy 32:127–131

  6. Davis E, Walker TR, Adams M, Willis R, Norris GA, Henry RC (2019) Source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in small craft harbor (SCH) surficial sediments in Nova Scotia. Canada. Sci. Total Environ. 691:528–537

  7. Harrison RM, Smith DJT, Luhana L (1996) Source Apportionment of Atmospheric Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Collected from an Urban Location in Birmingham, U.K.. Environ. Sci. Technol. 30:825–832

  8. Hui YM, Zheng MH, Liu ZT, Gao LR (2009) Distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments from Yellow River Estuary and Yangtze River Estuary, China. J. Environ. Sci. 21:1625–1631

  9. Kumar A, Schimmelmann A, Sauer PE, Brassell SC (2017) Distribution and sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in laminated Santa Barbara Basin sediments. Org. Geochem. 113:303–314

  10. Larsen RK, Baker JE (2003) Source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the urban atmosphere: a comparison of three methods. Environ. Sci. Technol. 37:1873–1881

  11. Li J, Li FD (2017) Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the Yellow River estuary: levels, sources and toxic potency assessment. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 116:479–487

  12. Liu GQ, Zhang G, Li XD, Li J, Peng XZ (2005) Sediment record of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a sediment core from the Pearl River Estuary, South China. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 51:912–921

  13. Long ER, MacDonald DD, Smith SI, Calder FD (1995) Incidence of adverse biological effects within ranges of chemical concentrations in marine and estuarine sediments. Environ. Manag. 19:18–97

  14. Machado KS, Figueira RCL, Côcco LC, Froehner S, Fernandes CVS, Ferreira PAL (2014) Sedimentary record of PAHs in the Barigui River and its relation to the socioeconomic development of Curitiba, Brazil. Sci. Total Environ. 482–483:42–52

  15. McCready S, Birch GF, Long ER (2006) Predictive abilities of numerical sediment quality guidelines in Sydney Harbour, Australia, and vicinity. Environ. Int. 32:638–649

  16. Paatero P, Tapper U (1994) Positive matrix factorisation: a non-negative factor model with optimal utilisation of error estimates of data values. Environmetrics 5:111–126

  17. Park S, Cho SY, Baeb MS (2015) Source identification of water-soluble organic aerosols at a roadway site using a positive matrix factorization analysis. Sci. Total Environ. 533:410–421

  18. Rodrigues CCDS, Santos LGGV, Santos E, Damasceno FC, Corrêa JAM (2018) Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments of the Amazon River Estuary (Amapá, Northern Brazil): distribution, sources and potential ecological risk. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 135:769–775

  19. Sarria-Villa R, Ocampo-Duque W, Páez M, Schuhmacher M, (2016) Presence of PAHs in water and sediments of the Colombian Cauca River during heavy rain episodes, and implications for risk assessment. Science of The Total Environment 540:455–465

  20. Soclo HH, Garrigues PH, Ewald M (2000) Origin of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in coastal marine sediments: case studies in Cotonou (Benin) and Aquitaine (France) áreas. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 40:387–393

  21. Stout SA, Uhler AD, Boehm PD (2001) Recognition of and allocation among multiple sources of PAH in urban sediments. Environ. Claims J. 13:141–158

  22. Tam NF, Ke L, Wang XH, Wong YS (2001) Contamination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in surface sediments of mangrove swamps. Environ. Pollut. 114:255–263

  23. Vane CH, Harrison I, Kim AW (2007) Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in sediments from the Mersey Estuary, UK. Sci. Total Environ. 374:112–126

  24. Venkataraman C, Lyons JM, Friedlander SK (1994) Size distributions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and elemental carbon. 1. Sampling, measurement methods, and source characterization. Environ. Sci. Technol. 28:555–562

  25. Wang XC, Sun S, Ma HQ, Liu Y (2006) Sources and distribution of aliphatic and polyaromatic hydrocarbons in sediments of Jiaozhou Bay, Qingdao, China. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 52:129–138

  26. Wang M, Wang CY, Li YW (2017) Petroleum hydrocarbons in a water-sediment system from Yellow River estuary and adjacent coastal area, China: distribution pattern, risk assessment and sources. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 122:139–148

  27. Xu J, Peng X, Guo CS, Xu J, Lin HX, Shi GL, Lv JP, Zhang Y, Feng YC, Tysklind M (2016) Sediment PAH source apportionment in the Liaohe River using the ME2 approach: a comparison to the PMF model. Sci. Total Environ. 553:164–171

  28. Yang Z, Wang L, Niu J, Wang J, Shen Z (2009) Pollution assessment and source identifications of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments of the Yellow River Delta, a newly born wetland in China. Environ. Monit. Assess. 158:561–571

  29. Yuan H, Li T, Ding X, Zhao G, Ye S (2014a) Distribution, sources and potential toxicological significance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in surface soils of the Yellow River Delta, China. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 83:258–264

  30. Yuan ZJ, Liu GJ, Wang RW, Da CN (2014b) Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments from the Old Yellow River Estuary, China: occurrence, sources, characterization and correlation with the relocation history of the Yellow River. Ecotox. Environ. Safe 109:169–176

  31. Yunker MB, Macdonald RW, Vingarzan R, Mitchell RH, Goyette D, Sylvestre S (2002) PAHs in the Fraser River basin: a critical appraisal of PAH ratios as indicators of PAH source and composition. Org. Geochem. 33:489–515

  32. Zanardi-Lamardo E, Mitra S, Vieira-Campos AV, Cabral CB, Yogui GT, Sarkar SK, Biswas JK, Godhantaraman N (2019) Distribution and sources of organic contaminants in surface sediments of Hooghly river estuary and Sundarban mangrove, eastern coast of India. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 146:39–49

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Chuanyuan Wang.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Responsible editor: Hongwen Sun

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wang, C., Zou, Y., Yu, L. et al. Potential source contributions and risk assessment of PAHs in sediments from the tail-reaches of the Yellow River Estuary, China: PCA model, PMF model, and mean ERM quotient analysis. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020) doi:10.1007/s11356-019-07530-8

Download citation


  • PAHs
  • Source apportionment
  • MERM-Q
  • Risk assessment
  • Spatial distribution
  • Yellow River Estuary