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J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2014;77(14-16):806-15. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.909301.

Water quality concerns due to forest fires: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) contamination of groundwater from mountain areas.

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a National Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge , R. Alexandre Herculano 321, Porto , Portugal.


Water quality alterations due to forest fires may considerably affect aquatic organisms and water resources. These impacts are cumulative as a result of pollutants mobilized from fires, chemicals used to fight fire, and postfire responses. Few studies have examined postfire transport into water resources of trace elements, including the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are organic pollutants produced during combustion and are considered carcinogenic and harmful to humans. PAH are also known to adversely affect survival, growth, and reproduction of many aquatic species. This study assessed the effects of forest wildfires on groundwater from two mountain regions located in protected areas from north and central Portugal. Two campaigns to collect water samples were performed in order to measure PAH levels. Fifteen of 16 studied PAH were found in groundwater samples collected at burned areas, most of them at concentrations significantly higher than those found in control regions, indicating aquifer contamination. The total sum of PAH in burned areas ranged from 23.1to 95.1 ng/L with a median of 62.9 ng/L, which is one- to sixfold higher than the average level measured in controls (16.2 ng/L). In addition, in control samples, the levels of light PAH with two to four rings were at higher levels than heavy PAH with five or six rings, thus showing a different profile between control and burned sites. The contribution of wildfires to groundwater contamination by PAH was demonstrated, enabling a reliable assessment of the impacts on water quality and preparation of scientifically based decision criteria for postfire forest management practices.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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