Trends and Health Risks of Dissolved Heavy Metal Pollution in Global River and Lake Water from 1970 to 2017

  • Youzhi LiEmail author
  • Qiaoqiao Zhou
  • Bo Ren
  • Jia Luo
  • Jinrui Yuan
  • Xiaohui Ding
  • Hualin Bian
  • Xin Yao
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 251)


Heavy metal pollution in surface water is a global environmental problem. This study analyzed the trends, health risks, and sources of eight dissolved heavy metal species in river and lake water across five continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America; Oceania was excluded owing to a lack of data) for the period 1970–2017. We wanted to assess the effects of various implemented countermeasures to pollution and to determine those that could be adopted worldwide. Collectively, the water system showed increasing trends for Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Mn, and Fe and decreasing trends for Pb and Zn. The mean dissolved concentrations of most heavy metals were highest in Asia and lowest in Europe. Most heavy metals had low non-carcinogenic risks over this period. The cancer risks associated with Pb were lower than the hazardous level on all five continents over the five decades, whereas the cancer risks related to Cr exceeded the hazardous level in the 1970s, 2000s, and 2010s, and in Africa, Asia, and North America over the entire period. Mining and manufacturing were consistently found to be critical sources of metal pollution from 1970 to 2017. However, the heavy metal sources differed significantly by continent, with waste discharge and rock weathering dominant in Africa; mining and manufacturing, along with rock weathering, are dominant in Asia and South America; fertilizer and pesticide use, along with rock weathering, are dominant in North America; and mining and manufacturing, waste discharge, and rock weathering are dominant in Europe. Global trends in the metal loadings in water and in relevant pollution-control measures suggest that countermeasures in Europe have successfully controlled heavy metal pollution. The successful measures include implementing rigorous standards for metal emissions, limiting the metal concentrations in products, and rigorously treating metal-contaminated waste. Therefore, the measures implemented in Europe should be extended worldwide to treat heavy metal pollution in water.


Africa Asia Cd Cr Cu Europe Fe Fertilizer and pesticide use Global pollution Health risk Heavy metal regulation Lake pollution Mining and manufacturing Mn Ni North America Pb Pollution history Pollution-control measure River pollution Rock weathering Source apportionment South America Waste discharge Zn 



Council of the European Communities


Cancer risk


Cancer slope factor


Environmental Protection Agency


European Union


Hazard quotient index


Hazard quotient




Multiple linear regression


Principal component analysis


Reference dose


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe


United States



The authors greatly appreciate Marco Vighi, associate editor of Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, and two anonymous reviewers for the constructive suggestions on this manuscript. The study was supported financially by the Key Research and Development Program of Hunan Province (2017WK2082; 2017SK2300; 2017NK2383), the Scientific Research Fund of Hunan Provincial Education Department (16B121), and the Science and Technology Program of the Forestry Department of Hunan Province (XKL201702).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Youzhi Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Qiaoqiao Zhou
    • 1
  • Bo Ren
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jia Luo
    • 3
  • Jinrui Yuan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiaohui Ding
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hualin Bian
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xin Yao
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Bioscience and BiotechnologyHunan Agricultural UniversityChangshaChina
  2. 2.Hunan Provincial Key Laboratory of Rural Ecosystem Health in Dongting Lake AreaHunan Agricultural UniversityChangshaChina
  3. 3.Hunan Academy of ForestryChangshaChina

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