Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 73, Issue 6, pp 2881–2894 | Cite as

Assessment of groundwater contamination in an agricultural peri-urban area (NW Portugal): an integrated approach

  • M. F. Barroso
  • M. J. Ramalhosa
  • A. Olhero
  • M. C. Antão
  • M. F. Pina
  • L. Guimarães
  • J. Teixeira
  • M. J. Afonso
  • C. Delerue-Matos
  • H. I. Chaminé
Thematic Issue


The excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture has generated a decrease in groundwater and surface water quality in many regions of the EU, constituting a hazard for human health and the environment. Besides, on-site sewage disposal is an important source of groundwater contamination in urban and peri-urban areas. The assessment of groundwater vulnerability to contamination is an important tool to fulfil the demands of EU Directives. The purpose of this study is to assess the groundwater vulnerability to contamination related mainly to agricultural activities in a peri-urban area (Vila do Conde, NW Portugal). The hydrogeological framework is characterised mainly by fissured granitic basement and sedimentary cover. Water samples were collected and analysed for temperature, pH, electrical conductivity, chloride, phosphate, nitrate and nitrite. An evaluation of groundwater vulnerability to contamination was applied (GOD-S, Pesticide DRASTIC-Fm, SINTACS and SI) and the potential nitrate contamination risk was assessed, both on a hydrogeological GIS-based mapping. A principal component analysis was performed to characterised patterns of relationship among groundwater contamination, vulnerability, and the hydrogeological setting assessed. Levels of nitrate above legislation limits were detected in 75 % of the samples analysed. Alluvia units showed the highest nitrate concentrations and also the highest vulnerability and risk. Nitrate contamination is a serious problem affecting groundwater, particularly shallow aquifers, especially due to agriculture activities, livestock and cesspools. GIS-based cartography provided an accurate way to improve knowledge on water circulation models and global functioning of local aquifer systems. Finally, this study highlights the adequacy of an integrated approach, combining hydrogeochemical data, vulnerability assessments and multivariate analysis, to understand groundwater processes in peri-urban areas.


Groundwater quality Agricultural activity Vulnerability Urban hydrology NW Portugal 



This work was partially financed by FEDER-EU COMPETE Funds and the Portuguese Foundation for the Science and Technology, FCT (POCI/CTE-GEX/59081/2004, PEst-C/CTE/UI4035 and PEst-OE/CTE/UI0098), and by the LABCARGA|ISEP re-equipment program (IPP-ISEP|PAD’2007/08). M.F. Barroso is grateful for the post-doc fellowship (SFRH/BPD/78845/2011), granted by POPH (QREN-Tip. 4.1), funded by FCT and FEDER-EU Funds. Special thanks are due to the household farmers, local authorities and Alice Carvalho from the Vila do Conde Agricultural Cooperative for all the support. We acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for the constructive comments that helped to improve the focus of the manuscript. The present paper is dedicated to Professor J. Martins Carvalho (1943-), outstanding Hydrogeologist, who launched the modern groundwater exploration and the integrated environmental hydrogeology approach in Portugal.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. F. Barroso
    • 1
  • M. J. Ramalhosa
    • 1
  • A. Olhero
    • 2
    • 3
  • M. C. Antão
    • 4
  • M. F. Pina
    • 2
    • 3
    • 5
  • L. Guimarães
    • 6
  • J. Teixeira
    • 7
    • 8
  • M. J. Afonso
    • 7
    • 8
  • C. Delerue-Matos
    • 1
  • H. I. Chaminé
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.REQUIMTE, Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto (ISEP), Politécnico do PortoPortoPortugal
  2. 2.INEB, Instituto de Engenharia BiomédicaUniversidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  3. 3.ISPUP, Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  4. 4.Laboratório de Controlo de Qualidade de Águas e Alimentos, EQUILIBRIUMPortoPortugal
  5. 5.Departamento de Epidemiologia Clínica, Medicina Preditiva e Saúde PúblicaFaculdade de Medicina da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  6. 6.Laboratório de ToxicologiaCIIMAR, Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  7. 7.Laboratório de Cartografia e Geologia Aplicada (LABCARGA), DEGInstituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto (ISEP), Politécnico do PortoPortoPortugal
  8. 8.Centro GeoBioTec, Universidade de AveiroAveiroPortugal

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