Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 134–140 | Cite as

Research progress of heavy metal pollution in China: Sources, analytical methods, status, and toxicity

Open Access
Review Special Issue Toxic Metal Pollution Progress of Projects Supported by NSFC


Heavy metal pollution is one of the most serious environmental problems in China and a large number of people are threatened by heavy metal pollution. Extensive damage to human organs, such as liver, kidney, digestion system, and nervous system can be caused by uptake of excess heavy metals. Heavy metals in the environment can originate from both natural and anthropogenic sources. Although contamination of heavy metals has been known to be a severe environmental problem for decades, it is still getting worse in recent years and there are few feasible approaches to resolve this problem. Due to their high toxicity, prevalent existence and persistence in the environment, lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr) and arsenic (As) are commonly considered as the priority heavy metals which should be concerned and their emission should be controlled in China. This paper reviewed the pollution of heavy metals in China, focusing on the following four aspects: current status of heavy metal pollution in China, sources of heavy metals in China, toxicity and potential risk, and possible reduction strategies.


heavy metal pollution source toxicity environmental monitoring 


  1. 1.
    USGS. 2009 minerals yearbook, mercury (advance release). US Geological Survey, 2009Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jian X D, Shen Y W, Yao W, et al. Status analysis and reduction countermeasures of China’s mercury supply and demand. Res Environ Sci, 2009, 788–792Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Wu Y, Wang S X, Streets D G, et al. Trends in anthropogenic mercury emissions in China from 1995 to 2003. Environ Sci Technol, 2006, 40: 5312–5318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gao Y, Xia J. Chromium contamination accident in china: Viewing environment policy of China. Environ Sci Technol, 2011, 45: 8605–8606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Matschullat J. Arsenic in the geosphere-A review. Sci Total Environ, 2000, 249: 297–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Liang L N, Jiang G B, Liu J F, et al. Speciation analysis of mercury in seafood by using high-performance liquid chromatography on-line coupled with cold-vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry via a post column microwave digestion. Anal Chim Acta, 2003, 477: 131–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Wang H J, Du X M, Wang M, et al. Using ion-pair reversed-phase HPLC ICP-MS to simultaneously determine Cr(III) and Cr(VI) in urine of chromate workers. Talanta, 2010, 81: 1856–1860CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    He B, Fang Y, Jiang G B, et al. Optimization of the extraction for the determination of arsenic species in plant materials by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with hydride generation atomic fluorescence spectrometry. Spectrochim Acta B, 2002, 57: 1705–1711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Liu J Y, Jiang G B, Zhou Q F, et al. Headspace solid-phase microextraction of butyltin species in sediments and their gas chromatographic determination. J Sep Sci, 2001, 24: 459–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Zhou Q F, Zhang J B, Fu J J, et al. Biomonitoring: An appealing tool for assessment of metal pollution in the aquatic ecosystem. Anal Chim Acta, 2008, 606: 135–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Fu J J, Zhou Q F, Liu J M, et al. High levels of heavy metals in rice (Oryza sativa L.) from a typical E-waste recycling area in southeast China and its potential risk to human health. Chemosphere, 2008, 71: 1269–1275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Wang S Q, Zhang J L. Blood lead levels in children, China. Environ Res, 2006, 101: 412–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Huo X, Peng L, Xu X J, et al. Elevated blood lead levels of children in Guiyu, an electronic waste recycling town in China. Environ Health Persp, 2007, 115: 1113–1117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Liu C P, Luo C L, Gao Y, et al. Arsenic contamination and potential health risk implications at an abandoned tungsten mine, southern China. Environ Pollut, 2010, 158: 820–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jin Y L, Liang C K, He G L, et al. Study on distribution of endemic arsenism in China. J Hygiene, 2003, 519–540Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Luo X S, Yu S, Zhu Y G, et al. Trace metal contamination in urban soils of China. Sci Total Environ, 2012, 421: 17–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Pan K, Wang W X. Trace metal contamination in estuarine and coastal environments in China. Sci Total Environ, 2012, 421: 3–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Li C W, Liang Y M, Chen Y M. Combined ultrafiltration and suspended pellets for lead removal. Sep Purif Technol, 2005, 45: 213–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Wang W, Liu X D, Zhao L W, et al. Effectiveness of leaded petrol phase-out in Tianjin, China based on the aerosol lead concentration and isotope abundance ratio. Sci Total Environ, 2006, 364: 175–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Warren R S, Birch P. Heavy metal levels in atmospheric particulates, roadside dust and soil along a major urban highway. Sci Total Environ, 1987, 59: 253–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hu W, Wang H Y, Zha T G, et al. Soil heavy metal accumulation and speciation in a sewage-irrigated area along the Liangshui River, Beijing. Eco Environ, 2008, 1491–1497Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Qi Q, Yang Y, Yao X, et al. Blood lead level of children in the urban areas in China. Chin J Epidem, 2002, 23: 162–166Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Feng X B, Qiu G L. Mercury pollution in Guizhou, southwestern China—An overview. Sci Total Environ, 2008, 400: 227–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Horvat M, Nolde N, Fajon V, et al. Total mercury, methylmercury and selenium in mercury polluted areas in the province Guizhou, China. Sci Total Environ, 2003, 304: 231–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Qiu G L, Feng X B, Wang S F, et al. Mercury and methylmercury in riparian soil, sediments, mine-waste calcines, and moss from abandoned Hg mines in east Guizhou province, southwestern China. Appl Geochem, 2005, 20: 627–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Wang S F, Feng X B, Qiu G L, et al. Characteristics of mercury exchange flux between soil and air in the heavily air-polluted area, eastern Guizhou, China. Atmos Environ, 2007, 41: 5584–5594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Feng X B, Sommar J, Lindqvist O, et al. Occurrence, emissions and deposition of mercury during coal combustion in the Province Guizhou, China. Water Air Soil Poll, 2002, 139: 311–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Feng X B, Tang S L, Shang L H, et al. Total gaseous mercury in the atmosphere of Guiyang, P R China. Sci Total Environ, 2003, 304: 61–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Fang F M, Wang Q C, Liu R H, et al. Atmospheric particulate mercury in Changchun City, China. Atmos Environ, 2001, 35: 4265–4272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Fang F M, Wang Q C, Li J F. Atmospheric particulate mercury concentration and its dry deposition flux in Changchun City, China. Sci Total Environ, 2001, 281: 229–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Zhang Y Y, Xiu G L, Zhang D N, et al. Total gaseous mercury in ambient air of Shanghai: Its seasonal variation in relation to meteorological condition. Environ Sci Technol, 2012, 155–158Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wei F S, Zheng C J, Chen J S, et al. Study on the background contents on 61 elements of soils in China. Environ Sci, 1991, 12–19Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Liu S M, Zhang J. Mercury in four north China estuaries: The Daliaohe, Yalujiang, Luanhe and Dongcunhe. Periodical Ocean Univ China, 2001, 31: 36–42Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Wang S F, Jia Y F, Wang S Y, et al. Total mercury and monomethyl-mercury in water, sediments, and hydrophytes from the rivers, estuary, and bay along the Bohai Sea coast, northeastern China. Appl Geochem, 2009, 24: 1702–1711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Zhang Z S, Sun X J, Wang Q C, et al. Recovery from mercury contamination in the second Songhua river, China. Water Air Soil Poll, 2010, 211: 219–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Tang Z, Yang R B, Lei M, et al. Risk assessment of Cd in paddy soil and rice sample collected from an industrial park of Xiangtan. J Hunan Agricult Univ, 2012, 92–95Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Zheng Y M, Luo J F, Chen T B, et al. Cadmium accumulation in soils for different land uses in Beijing. Geographical Res, 2005, 542–548Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Huang S S, Hua M, Jin Y, et al. Investigation of cadmium pollution and its major sources in vegetable land in the suburb of Nanjing City. J Soil Sci, 2008, 129–132Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Xi J Z, Li C M, Wang S Y, et al. Situation and assessment of heavy metal pollution in river and mud in one city in Henan Province. J Hygiene Res, 2010, 767–769Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Li X Y, Ji H B, Zhu X F, et al. Analysis on distribution and partition of heavy metal in sediments of northern Beijing water source. Mod Agric Sci Technol, 2010, 273–277Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Zhao G H, Chang W Y, Chen X D, et al. Analysis on chromium (VI) transportation way in the typical disposal site and primary screening of chromium tolerance plants. Environ Prot Sci, 2011, 40–43Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Bei R T, Li F B, Wu M, et al. Study on arsenic and chromium absorption characteristics on polluted sediment of Sanchahe river in Dulong mining area. Environ Sci Technol, 2011, 10–13Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Zhang H J, Wang X R, Chen C Y, et al. Study on the polluting property of chrome residue contaminated sites in plateau section. J Environ Engin, 2010, 915–918Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Chen L L, Zhou B H, Xu B B, et al. Cadmium and chromium concentrations and their ecological risks in the water body of Taihu Lake, East China. J Ecol, 2011, 2290–2296Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Wang Y Q, He L X, Ma Y G, et al. Study on distribution of chromium (VI) and its migration characters in Shaanxi district in Weihe River. J Northwest A F Univ, 2012, 129–134Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Qu N D, Tian X L, Yi Z Q, et al. Total Zn, Cr in the water of Zhan Jiang seaport and the water quality assessment. Ocean Devel Manag, 2011, 69–73Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Mandal B K, Suzuki K T. Arsenic round the world: A review. Talanta, 2002, 58: 201–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Sun G F. Arsenic contamination and arsenicosis in China. Toxicol Appl Pharm, 2004, 198: 268–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    He B, Liang L, Jiang G B. Distributions of arsenic and selenium in selected Chinese coal mines. Sci Total Environ, 2002, 296: 19–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Liao X Y, Chen T B, Xie H, et al. Soil As contamination and its risk assessment in areas near the industrial districts of Chenzhou City, Southern China. Environ Int, 2005, 31: 791–798CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Jiang G B, Zhou Q F, Liu J Y, et al. Occurrence of butyltin compounds in the waters of selected lakes, rivers and coastal environments from China. Environ Pollut, 2001, 115: 81–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Gao J M, Hu J Y, Wan Y, et al. Butyltin compounds distribution in the coastal waters of Bohai Bay, People’s Republic of China. Bull Environ Contam Toxi, 2004, 72: 945–953Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Huang C J, Dong Q X, Lei Z, et al. An investigation of organotin compound contamination in three harbors along southeast coast of China. Acta Oceanol Sin, 2005, 57–63Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Gao J M, Hu J Y, Zhen H, et al. Organotin compounds in the Three Gorges Reservoir region of the Yangtze River. Bull Environ Contam Tox, 2006, 76: 155–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Gerber G B, Leonard A, Jacquet P. Toxicity, mutagenicity and teratogenicity of lead. Mutat Res, 1980, 76: 115–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Clarkson T W, Magos L, Myers G J. The toxicology of mercury-Current exposures and clinical manifestations. New Engl J Med, 2003, 349: 1731–1737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Waalkes M P. Cadmium carcinogenesis. Mutat Res-Fund Mol M, 2003, 533: 107–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Cohen M D, Kargacin B, Klein C B, et al. Mechanisms of chromium carcinogenicity and toxicity. Crit Rev Toxicol, 1993, 23: 255–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Jain C K, Ali I. Arsenic: Occurrence, toxicity and speciation techniques. Water Res, 2000, 34: 4304–4312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Liang Q F, Li J X, Qiu J X. Harmful effects of lead on human health. Trace Element Sci, 2003, 57–60Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    WHO/ IPCS. Environmental health criteria No 101. Geneva, Switzerland, 1990Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Davis L E, Kornffld M, Mooney H S, et al. Methylmercury poisoning-long-term clinical, radiological, toxicological, and pathological-Studies of an affected family. Ann Neurol, 1994, 35: 680–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Grandjean P, Weihe P, White R F, et al. Cognitive deficit in 7-year-old children with prenatal exposure to methylmercury. Neurotoxicol Teratol, 1997, 19: 417–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Shamlaye C F, Marsh D O, Myers G J, et al. The Seychelles child development study on neurodevelopmental outcomes in children following in utero exposure to methylmercury from a maternal fish diet: Background and demographics. Neurotoxicology, 1995, 16: 597–612Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. 1993Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Liu X H, Wang Y Y, Xia A L. Investigation of the severe rhinopathy in a chromium plating workship. J Indust Med, 2011, 137–138Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations