Inconsistency and comprehensiveness of risk assessments for heavy metals in urban surface sediments

G. B. Yu, Y. Liu, S. Yu*, S. C. Wu, Anna Oi Wah LEUNG, X. S. Luo, B. Xu, H. B. Li, Ming Hung WONG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

133 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous indices have been developed to assess environmental risk of heavy metals in surface sediments, including the total content based geoaccumulation index (Igeo), exchangeable fraction based risk assessment code (RAC), and biological toxicity test based sediment quality guidelines (SQGs). In this study, the three indices were applied to freshwater surface sediments from 10 sections along an urbanization gradient of the Grand Canal, China to assess the environmental risks of heavy metals (Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd, and Cr) and to understand discrepancies of risk assessment indices and urbanization effects regarding heavy metal contamination. Results showed that Cd, Zn, and Pb were the most enriched metals in urban sections assessed by Igeo and over 95% of the samples exceeded the Zn and Pb thresholds of the effect range low (ERL) of SQGs. According to RAC, Cu, Zn, Cd, and Cr had high risks of adversely affecting the water quality of the Grand Canal due to their remarkable portions of exchangeable fraction in surface sediment. However, Pb showed a relative low risk, and was largely bounded to Fe/Mn oxides in the urban surface sediments. Obviously, the three assessment indices were not consistent with each other in terms of predicting environmental risks attributed to heavy metals in the freshwater surface sediments of this study. It is recommended that risk assessment by SQGs should be revised according to availability and site specificity. However, the combination of the three indices gave us a comprehensive understanding of heavy metal risks in the urban surface sediments of the Grand Canal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1080-1087
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

User-Defined Keywords

  • Heavy metals
  • Risk assessment code (RAC)
  • Sediment quality guidelines (SQGs)
  • The Grand Canal of China
  • Urban surface sediment


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