Anthropogenic contamination

Environmental impact of sewage pollution. Copyright.istockphoto.com, © microgen

Anthropogenic contamination of the environment may be defined as the chemical and biological contamination caused by the actions of humans. Its increase is intimately associated with the rise in global population, industrialisation, urbanisation and intensive agricultural practices. Since the industrial revolution, man-made chemicals and wastes have been released into the environment to the detriment of soil, sediment, water and air quality.

Discharges may either be in diffuse form (such as atmospheric particles from fossil-fuel combustion or fertilisers into soils and groundwaters), as point sources (such as mine waste) or as a discrete event (such as oil spillage). Sediments and soils are the ultimate sinks of many chemicals. Understanding of concentrations, spatial and temporal distributions and air/water/solid partitioning behaviour and interactions is key to hazard, risk and impact assessments and evaluation of potential effects on ecology and man.

The BGS laboratories have expertise in the collection, analysis and interpretation of organic pollutants, potentially hazardous metals and radiogenic nuclides in soils, sediments and waters. Within the sphere of organic geochemistry, BGS scientists have considerable expertise in the analysis of some of the 'dirty dozen pollutants' including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). The laboratories can also measure faecal stanol and sterol to track pollution from sewage.

Selected research

Manual coring of sediment in the Mersey estuaryMercury contamination of sediments in the Mersey Estuary

Investigating the distributions of mercury from sediment cores and grab samples and the industrial history of the Mersey Estuary.

250 year record of persistent organic pollutants in UK Estuaries250 year record of persistent organic pollutants in UK Estuaries

Combining data to trace the history of organic pollution in Britain's estuaries.

Seawater and the Thames Flood BarrierExplosives in seawater

Experiments on degradation of TNT in marine microcosms.

Sampling in the salt marshesEstuarine sediment pollutants in New Jersey, USA

Measuring the distributions of pollutants in estuarine sediments of a wildlife refuge.

Sampling in mangrovesContamination of mangrove swamps, China

Assessing the risks from persistent organic pollutants in a tropical setting.

The River Clyde, GlasgowFlame retardant pollutants in the Clyde Estuary, Scotland

Investigations to assess the accumulation of PBDE flame retardants in shallow estuarine sediments of the River Clyde.

Core collectionPollutants in sediments of the Thames Estuary

Tracing organic and trace-metal pollutants in the estuarine muds of the River Thames.