The geochemical behavior of trace metals and nutrients in submerged sediments of the Three Gorges Reservoir and a critical review on risk assessment methods

Abstract

Permanently submerged sediment samples (SS) were collected in the center stream of eleven tributaries of Changjiang (Yangtze River) and at eight confluence zones in the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR) in May and December of 2017. The work showed that aqua regia digestion is a simpler, more reliable and robust method compared to total digestion with hydrofluoric acid (HF) for the determination of trace metals (TMs) in sediment for risk assessment purpose. Our study revealed a remarkable accumulation of TMs at the confluence zones and a trend of their gradual increase toward this zone. The presence of iron and manganese (oxy)hydroxides combined with hydrodynamic conditions created by the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) and its operation are believed to play a crucial role. This work also found that concentrations of \( {\mathrm{NH}}_4^{+}-\mathrm{N} \) in May sediment were significantly higher than those in December, which could have been caused by both the cyclic hydrodynamic conditions and the warmer water. TOC and TP were both very low in the sediment. Although TN was 2 times higher than the Lowest Effect Level suggested by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, it is uncertain if it reflects a natural background level or due to anthropogenic activities. A critical discussion is made by comparing the conclusions obtained when using different TMs risk assessment models. Necessary precautions are highly recommended when performing this exercise. In this study, no significant risk from either TMs or nutrients was identified.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the National Key R&D Program of China (Grant No.: 2016YFC0502204), and the Key Science and Technology Special Project (2018SZDZX0026) and the Key Research and Development Program (2019YFS0055) in Sichuan Province of China.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFC0502204), Key Research and Development Program in Sichuan Province (2019YFS0055) and Key Science and Technology Special Project in Sichuan Province (2018SZDZX0026)

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Bin Wang, Shu Chen designed experiments. Yuwei Chen, Nelson Belzile, Rui Zheng, Yuankun Yang, Kaibin Fu processed the experimental data, performed the analysis, drafted the manuscript and designed the figures. Yongcan Chen, Binliang Lin, Zhaowei Liu, Jian Sun aided in interpreting the results and worked on the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shu Chen.

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Highlights

1. The concentration of trace metals (TMs) extracted by aqua regia is a simple and more appropriate method in metal risk assessment.

2. The characteristic accumulation of TMs at confluence zones of Changjiang with its tributaries and the strong correlation of TMs with Fe and Mn oxyhydroxides indicate favorable hydrodynamic conditions there for adsorption and sedimentation of these TMs enriched particles.

3. N\( {\mathrm{H}}_4^{+} \)-N concentrations in May sediment are significantly higher than those of December, which could be induced by cyclic hydrodynamic conditions created by the Dam operation and by temperature change.

4. The conclusions on TMs risk assessment can be very different when different models are used, therefore necessary precautions are required in interpretation.

Responsible Editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Wang, B., Chen, S., Chen, Y. et al. The geochemical behavior of trace metals and nutrients in submerged sediments of the Three Gorges Reservoir and a critical review on risk assessment methods. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-12827-8

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Keywords

  • Trace metals
  • Nutrients
  • Spatial and seasonal variations, Submerged sediments
  • Risk assessments
  • Three Gorges Reservoir