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Effects of heavy metal contamination released by petrochemical plants on marine life and water quality of coastal areas

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The present study attempts to assess the threat of water contamination in Persian Gulf by heavy metals (Fe, Cr, Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Se, and Ni) and its subsequent effects on five fish species including Scomberomorus guttatus (S. guttatus), Lethrinus nebulosus (L. nebulosus), Brachirus orientalis (B. orientalis), Pomadasys kaakan (P. kaakan), and Scomberomorus commerson (S. commerson). Water and fish samples from fourteen monitoring stations were obtained to determine the concentrations of contaminants in water and fish. Heavy metal pollution index (HMPI) and non-carcinogenic hazard quotient (NHQI) were employed to evaluate contamination level in water and fish muscle. The Kriging geostatistical method was employed to determine the spatial distribution of different heavy metals around petrochemical plants. The highest NHQI values for P. kaakan and B. orientalis species were 1.036 and 1.046, respectively. In both cases, the NHQI values were higher than the maximum allowable value of 1, indicating that both fish species were on the verge of contamination by heavy metals, which in turn makes the consumption of these fish highly hazardous to human health. The lowest NHQI value was observed in S. commerson species at a value of 0.394, indicating its harmlessness to human health. Overall, fish species living within the top 5 m of the water column (S. commerson and S. guttatus) were found to be less contaminated by heavy metals compared to species dwelling near the seafloor (P. kaakan and B. orientalis). Results also indicated the pollution absorption rate in S. commerson and S. guttatus were 0.45 and 3.4 mg/kg-year, while the corresponding values for the B. orientalis and L. nebulosus species were 6 and 2 mg/kg-year, respectively. P. kaakan species showed a pollution absorption rate of 3.2 mg/kg-year. High heavy metal concentrations of 4.8, 10, 9.8, 5.2, 9.4, and 6.7 mg/L were obtained for Cr, Zn, Pb, Ni, Fe, Cu, and Cd, respectively, in water samples obtained from stations nearby petrochemical plants. The HMPI index for the most contaminated stations was ten times that of the maximum allowable limit. Given the intense activity of oil, gas, and petrochemical plants in the Persian Gulf, defining safe fishing areas by management practices similar to contamination zoning maps presented in this study can substantially protect the public health from heavy metal contamination.

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All processes data are provided in the manuscript and supplementary material. Raw data could be provided by the first author upon request.


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The authors would like to thank Shiraz University for providing financial support (238726-187) for this study.

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Marzieh Mokarram: Conceptualization, data curation, formal analysis, investigation, methodology, software, visualization, project administration, funding acquisition, writing — original draft, writing, review and editing. Ali Saber: Conceptualization, investigation, formal analysis, methodology, supervision, writing — review and editing. Razagh Obeidi: Conducting field work and lab experiments, writing — review and editing.

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Correspondence to Ali Saber.

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Mokarram, M., Saber, A. & Obeidi, R. Effects of heavy metal contamination released by petrochemical plants on marine life and water quality of coastal areas. Environ Sci Pollut Res 28, 51369–51383 (2021).

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