Nutrient and Trace Metal Issues in the Pearl River Delta, China

  • Lichun Xie
  • Lei Gao
  • Jianyao Chen


The Pearl River Delta (PRD) has undergone rapid urban growth and industrial development during the past four decades, and human activities have become one of the most important factors affecting the environment in the region. Therefore, there is an urgent need to examine the influence of urbanization on surface water and groundwater systems. Based on data collection and analyses of industry, agriculture, environmental protection efforts, natural conditions, and population statistics in 2000, 2005, and 2010, we assessed the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) budgets and their regional differences in the PRD between the three time periods. The N and P input and output varied greatly during 2000–2010, whereas the N and P surplus increased continuously. In addition, intense human activities induced severe trace metal pollution in the Shima River close to an important water supply source. Zinc and copper concentrations markedly exceeded the national water quality standards (Class I) in the dry season. Meanwhile, various pollution sources significantly contributed to metal accumulation in riverine sediments, leading to a slight enrichment in lead, manganese, and iron, and moderate-to-heavy enrichment of chromium, nickel, copper, zinc, and cadmium. Hierarchical cluster analysis indicates that sediment pollution caused by trace metals was mainly associated with industrial and agricultural activities.


Pearl River Delta Environmental mediums Nutrients budget Trace metals pollution Water safety 


  1. Bai J, Xiao R, Cui B, Zhang K, Wang Q, Liu X, Gao H, Huang L (2011) Assessment of heavy metal pollution in wetland soils from the young and old reclaimed regions in the Pearl River Estuary, South China. Environ Pollut 159(3):817–824. Scholar
  2. Cai LM, Jin M, Zhou YZ, Huang LC, Dou L, Zhang CB, Fu SM (2008) Multivariate geostatistics and GIS-based approach to study the spatial distribution and sources of heavy metals in agricultural soil in the Pearl River delta, China. Environ Sci 12:3496–3502Google Scholar
  3. Cao N, Zhang YB, Chen XP (2009) Spatial-temporal change of phosphorus balance and the driving factors for agroecosystems in China. Chin Agric Sci Bull 25(13):220–225Google Scholar
  4. Chen B, Duan JC, Mai BX, Luo XJ, Yang QS, Sheng GY, Fu JM (2006a) Distribution of alkylphenols in the Pearl River Delta and adjacent northern South China Sea, China. Chemosphere 63(4):652–661. Scholar
  5. Chen JY, Wang Y, Zhang HB, Zhao XF (2006b) Overview on the studies of nitrate pollution in groundwater. Prog Geogr 25(1):34–44Google Scholar
  6. Chen FJ, Jia GD (2009) Nitrogen budgets of the Beijiang river basin. Trop Geogr 29(1):11–15. Scholar
  7. China National Environmental Monitoring Centre (1990) Background value of soil elements in China. China Environmental Science PressGoogle Scholar
  8. Deng MH, Xie YX, Xiong ZQ, Xing GX, Yan XY (2007) Nitrogen budgets of the Yangtze delta region and their effect on the environment. Acta Sci Circum 27(10):1709–1716. Scholar
  9. Dongguan Bureau of Statistics (1978–2015) Statistical yearbook of Dongguan CityGoogle Scholar
  10. Fan ML, Wang XM, Wang Q, Lin WS, Jin H (2010) Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Hengmen of Pearl River Estuary. J Trop Oceanogr 29(1):51–56Google Scholar
  11. Fu J, Zhao C, Luo Y, Liu C, Kyzas GZ, Luo Y, Zhao D, An S, Zhu H (2014) Heavy metals in surface sediments of the Jialu River, China: their relations to environmental factors. J Hazard Mater 270:102–109. Scholar
  12. Galloway JN, Howarth RW, Michaels AF, Nixon SW, Prospero JM, Dentener FJ (1996) Nitrogen and phosphorus budgets of the North Atlantic Ocean and its watershed. Biogeochemistry 35:3–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Galloway JN (2005) The global nitrogen cycle: past, present and future. Sci China Ser C Life Sci 48:669–677. Scholar
  14. Gao L, Chen JY, Wang J, Ke ZT, Yang XY, Shimizu Y, Zhu AP (2014) Heavy metal pollution of soils alongside Shima River, Dongguan and its ecotoxicity. Acta Pedol Sin 51(3):538–546Google Scholar
  15. Gao L, Chen J, Tang C, Ke Z, Wang J, Shimizu Y, Zhu A (2015a) Distribution, migration and potential risk of heavy metals in the Shima River catchment area, South China. Environ Sci Process Impacts 17(10):1769–1782. Scholar
  16. Gao L, Chen JY, Wang J, Ke ZT, Zhu AP, Xu K (2015b) Temporal-spatial variation and source identification of hydro-chemical characteristics in Shima catchment, Dongguan city. Environ Sci 36(5):61–69Google Scholar
  17. Gao L, Wang Z, Shan J, Chen J, Tang C, Yi M (2017) Aquatic environmental changes and anthropogenic activities reflected by the sedimentary records of the Shima River, Southern China. Environ Pollut 224:70–81. Scholar
  18. Hou D, He J, Lu C, Ren L, Fan Q, Wang J, Xie Z (2013) Distribution characteristics and potential ecological risk assessment of heavy metals (Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd) in water and sediments from Lake Dalinouer, China. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 93:135–144. Scholar
  19. Howarth RW, Billen G, Swaney D, Townsend A, Jaworski N, Lajtha K, Downing JA, Elmgren R, Caraco N, Jordan T, Berendse F, Freney J, Kudeyarov V, Murdoch P, Liang ZZ (1996) Regional nitrogen budgets and riverine N & P fluxes for the drainages to the North Atlantic Ocean: natural and human influences. Biogeochemistry 35:75–139. Scholar
  20. Huang D, Xu J, Zhang S (2012) Valuing the health risks of particulate air pollution in the Pearl River Delta, China. Environ Sci Policy 15(1):38–47. Scholar
  21. Iqbal J, Shah MH, Shaheen N (2015) Distribution, source identification and risk assessment of selected metals in sediments from freshwater lake. Int J Sedim Res 30(3):241–249. Scholar
  22. Jiang T, Zhong M, Zou LJ, LI K, Lin B, Zhu AP, Liu ZF (2016) Simulation and analysis of water quality in Dongjiang River based on the different scenarios of flood discharge from Shima River and the regulation of Dongjiang Hydro-Project. Acta Sci Nat Univ SunYatSen 55(2):117–123Google Scholar
  23. Jin ZF, Wang FE, Chen YX, Qgura NR (2004) Nitrate pollution of groundwater in urban area. Acta Pedol Sin 41(2):252–258Google Scholar
  24. Jonge VN, Elliott M, Orive E (2002) Causes, historical development, effects and future challenges of a common environmental problem: eutrophication. Hydrobiologia 475(476):1–19. Scholar
  25. Koukal B, Dominik J, Vignati D, Arpagaus P, Santiago S, Ouddane B, Benaabidate L (2004) Assessment of water quality and toxicity of polluted Rivers Fez and Sebou in the region of Fez (Morocco). Environ Pollut 131(1):163–172. Scholar
  26. Li HB, Yu S, Li GL, Deng H (2012) Lead contamination and source in Shanghai in the past century using dated sediment cores from urban park lakes. Chemosphere 88:1161–1169. Scholar
  27. Li F, Huang J, Zeng G, Yuan X, Li X, Liang J, Wang X, Tang X, Bai B (2013) Spatial risk assessment and sources identification of heavy metals in surface sediments from the Dongting Lake, Middle China. J Geochem Explor 132:75–83. Scholar
  28. Liu J, Guo JS, Fang F, Li Z, Chen YP (2011a) Phosphorus input-output budgets for a small watershed in purple soil sloped farmland in the Three Gorges area and its pollution potential. Res Environ Sci 24(12):1385–1392. Scholar
  29. Liu YD, Wu DL, Li MM, Liang M (2011b) Pollution situation of Dongguan reaches of Dongjiang River and its relevant countermeasures. J Dongguan Univ Technol 18(5):6–9Google Scholar
  30. Liu JF, Song ZG, Xu T (2006) Study on ionic composition of rainwater at Guangzhou and the primary factors of rainwater acidity. Acta Sci Circum 27(10):1998–2002. Scholar
  31. Ma X, Zuo H, Tian M, Zhang L, Meng J, Zhou X, Min N, Chang X, Liu Y (2016) Assessment of heavy metals contamination in sediments from three adjacent regions of the Yellow River using metal chemical fractions and multivariate analysis techniques. Chemosphere 144:264–272. Scholar
  32. MEP MoEPotPsRoC (2002) Environmental quality standards for surface waterGoogle Scholar
  33. Nancy BD, Carly JS (2005) Nitrogen deposition and reduction of terrestrial biodiversity: Evidence from temperate grasslands. Sci China Ser C Life Sci 35:720–728. Scholar
  34. Russell MJ, Weller DE, Jordan TE, Sigwart KJ, Sullivan KJ (2008) Net anthropogenic phosphorus inputs: spatial and temporal variability in the Chesapeake Bay region. Biogeochemistry 88:285–304. Scholar
  35. Valiela I, Boynton W, Hollibaugh JT, Jay D, Kemp WM, Kremer J et al (1992) Understanding changes in coastal environments: the LMER Program. EOS 73:481–485. Scholar
  36. Varol M, Şen B (2012) Assessment of nutrient and heavy metal contamination in surface water and sediments of the upper Tigris River, Turkey. Catena 92:1–10. Scholar
  37. Wang XY, Yan ES, Qu Y (2009) Material flow analysis of the phosphorus cycle in the upper watershed of the Miyun Reservoir in Beijing. Acta Sci Circum 29(7):1549–1560. Scholar
  38. WHO (2011) Guidelines for drinking-water quality, 4th edn.Google Scholar
  39. Wu S, Peng S, Zhang X, Wu D, Luo W, Zhang T, Zhou S, Yang G, Wan H, Wu L (2015) Levels and health risk assessments of heavy metals in urban soils in Dongguan, China. J Geochem Explor 148:71–78. Scholar
  40. Xing GX, Cao YC, Shi SL, Sun GQ, Du LJ, Zhu JG (2001) N pollution sources and denitrification in waterbodies in Taihu lake region. Sci China Ser B Chem 31(2):130–137. Scholar
  41. Xing GX, Yan XY (1999) Direct nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural field in China estimated by the revised 1996 IPPC guidelines for national greenhouse gases. Environ Sci Policy 2:355–361. Scholar
  42. Xing GX, Zhu ZL (2000) Analysis and estimation of nitrogen sources and outputs in China Watershed. Acta Pedol Sin 37(supplement):72–82Google Scholar
  43. Xing GX, Zhu ZL (2002) Regional nitrogen budgets for China and its major watersheds. Biogeochemistry 57(58):405–427. Scholar
  44. Xiong X, Jiang Y, Ren FP, Dong MY, Tian YH, Lei YM (2010) Land-use change and its ecological effect to the water in downstream river network area of Dongjiang basin. J Nat Resour 25(8):1321–1331Google Scholar
  45. Xu Q (2006) Water conservancy encyclopedia China. China Water Power Press, pp 256–257Google Scholar
  46. Yang ST, Cheng HG, Bu QS, Zhang JY, Shi XX (2006) Estimation of soil erosion and its application in assessment of the absorbed nitrogen and phosphorus load in China. Acta Sci Circum 26(3):366–374. Scholar
  47. Yeung ZLL, Kwok RCW, Yu KN (2003) Determination of multi-element profiles of street dust using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF). Appl Radiat Isot 58(3):339–346. Scholar
  48. Zhang R, Guan ML, Shu YJ, Shen LY, Chen XX, Zhang F, Li TG (2016) Historical record of lead accumulation and source in the tidal flat of Haizhou Bay, Yellow Sea: insights from lead isotopes. Mar Pollut Bull 106:383–387. Scholar
  49. Zhao XF, Chen FJ, Chen JY, Tang CY, Luo YL, Jia GD (2008) Using nitrogen isotope to identify the sources of nitrate contamination in urban groundwater-a case study in Zhuhai city. Hydrogeol Eng Geol 3:87–92. Scholar
  50. Zhu ZL (1997) Nitrogen balance and cycling in agroecosystems of China. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 323–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and TourismGuangdong University of Finance & EconomicsGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Geography and PlanningSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations