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Chemosphere. 2013 Mar;90(9):2444-52. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.11.002. Epub 2012 Nov 28.

A high-resolution historical sediment record of nutrients, trace elements and organochlorines (DDT and PCB) deposition in a drinking water reservoir (Lake Brêt, Switzerland) points at local and regional pollutant sources.

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Institute F.-A. Forel, University of Geneva, Versoix, Switzerland.


The (137)Cs and (210)Pb dating of a 61-cm long sediment core retrieved from a drinking water reservoir (Lake Brêt) located in Switzerland revealed a linear and relatively high sedimentation rate (~1 cm year(-1)) over the last decades. The continuous centimeter scale measurement of physical (porewater and granulometry), organic (C(org), P, N, HI and OI indexes) and mineral (C(min) and lithogenic trace elements) parameters therefore enables reconstructing the environmental history of the lake and anthropogenic pollutant input (trace metals, DDT and PCBs) at high resolution. A major change in the physical properties of the lowermost sediments occurred following the artificial rise of the dam in 1922. After ca. 1940, there was a long-term up-core increase in organic matter deposition attributed to enhance primary production and anoxic bottom water conditions due to excessive nutrient input from a watershed predominantly used for agriculture that also received domestic effluents of two wastewater-treatment plants. This pattern contrasts with the terrigenous element input (Eu, Sc, Mg, Ti, Al, and Fe) which doubled after the rising of the dam but continuously decreased during the last 60 years. By comparison, the trace metals (Cu, Pb and Hg) presented a slight enrichment factor (EF) only during the second part of the 20th century. Although maximum EF Pb (>2) occurred synchronously with the use of leaded gasoline in Switzerland (between ca. 1947 and 1985) the Hg and Cu profiles exhibited a relatively similar trend than Pb during the 20th century, therefore excluding the alkyl-lead added to petrol as the dominant (atmospheric) source of lead input to Lake Brêt. Conversely, the Cu profile that did not follow the decrease registered in Pb and Hg during the last 10 years, suggests an additional source of Cu probably linked to the impact of agricultural activities in the area. In absence of heavy industries in the catchment, the atmospheric deposition of DDT and PCBs via surface runoff followed the historical emissions of POPs in Switzerland. Such result highlights the regional contamination of freshwater resources by the large-scale emission of toxic industrial chemicals in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the efficiency of the regulatory measures subsequently taken.

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