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Ecotoxicology. 2018 Apr;27(3):336-351. doi: 10.1007/s10646-018-1898-4. Epub 2018 Feb 5.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments from a typical urban impacted river: application of a comprehensive risk assessment.

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Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.
National Metrology Institute of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.
Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.


Soweto and Lenasia, the most densely populated area of South Africa, is simultaneously a thriving metropolis, with a fair share of people still living in squalor conditions directly dependant on the natural resources. Because of industrialisation the populace and environment in this urban area are exposed to various pollutants. The aquatic environment was selected as a proxy to study the effect of industrial pollution in this area. The concentrations, source identification, and various environmental risks of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were determined in sediments of the upper reaches of the Klip River. Composite sediment samples collected in low-flow conditions in 2013 and 2014 ranged from 270-5400‚ÄČng/g. The PAHs in this aquatic ecosystem were dominated by 4-ring congeners and could be attributed to combustion of organic fuels by chemical mass balance. Heavy traffic and industrial complexes in the northern part of the study area were responsible for the PAH fingerprints. Probable adverse effects such as toxicity to benthic biota were proven after comparison with international sediment quality guidelines (SQG) both survey years. Toxic equivalence quotients (TEQs) calculated for the sediments using fish potency factors (FPFs) were up to 30 times greater than the Canadian guideline for dioxin-like compounds, indicating high probability of carcinogenic effect to fish mediated through the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor. Finally, sediments in the area posed moderate to high ecological risk, which corroborates the other toxicity assessments. The advantage of investigating multiple risk endpoints, is the comprehensive results obtained that allows for a more realistic representation of the study area. Consequently more aspects are kept into account that results in better conclusions.


Ecological risk; PAHs; Sediments; Soweto; TEQs; Toxicity

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