250 year record of persistent organic pollutants in UK Estuaries

Figure 1. London Docklands (Thames Estuary)

Organic geochemists at BGS have investigated sediment contamination profiles for organic pollutant groups such total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and flame retardants (PBDE), as well as other medicinal drugs to identify and track changing industrial activities and increasing urbanization in the Clyde, Mersey and Thames Estuaries.

Occurrence of organic pollutants

The environmental persistence of organic pollutant groups ranges from hours through to centuries. When investigated in combination, the presence/absence, total concentration, relative distributions of the various compounds and the isomeric ratios of these sediment-associated pollutants provides a means to:

  • check against guideline values
  • identify pollutant source
  • assess the risk of negative impacts on ecology and humans

This information is vital within many industrialised river basins (UK, USA, China) because it provides a means to determine whether changing climate conditions, dredging activities or man-made structures cause historical pollution to be redistributed toward the surface where they can have a negative impact upon ecology and water quality.

Further information

Vane, C H, Chenery, S R, Harrison, I, Kim, A W, Moss-Hayes, V and Jones, D G. 2011. Chemical Signatures of the Anthropocene in the Clyde Estuary, UK: Sediment hosted Pb, 207/206Pb, Polyaromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) and Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Pollution Records. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (A) 369, 1085—1111.

Vane, C H, Jones, D G and Lister, T R. 2009. Mercury contamination in surface sedimentns and sediment cores of the Mersey estuary, UK. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58, 940—946.

Vane, C H, Harrison, I and Kim, A W. 2007. Assessment of Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in surface sediments of the Inner Clyde Estuary, U.K. Marine.

Vane, C H., Harrison, I and Kim, A W. 2007. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in sediments from the Mersey Estuary, U.K. Science of the Total Environment 374, 112—126.


Please contact Dr Chris Vane for further information