Dispersal and environmental impact of contaminants in organic rich, fibrous sediments of industrial origin in the Baltic Sea
Abstract: The health of the Baltic Sea is negatively affected by hazardous substances such as metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include legacy pollutants that were banned decades ago, but still circulate in the ecosystem. Elevated levels of legacy pollutants, identified by HELCOM as key hazardous substances, have been found in accumulations of fibrous sediments, so-called fiberbanks and fiber-rich sediments, which derive from old pulp mills along the Swedish north coast. The fiberbanks are deposited in shallow water and bathymetrical models show evidence of their erosion, potentially caused by propeller wash, submarine landslides and gas ebullition. This thesis addresses the potential dispersal of key substances from three fiberbank sites located in a non-tidal Swedish estuary, in which metals and POPs are present in concentrations that may pose a risk for benthic organisms. Metals and POPs are partitioned to organic material and, as expected, show the highest partitioning coefficients (KD) in fiberbanks that have higher TOC levels compared to adjacent areas with fiber-rich sediments (natural clay sediments mixed up with fibers) or relatively unaffected postglacial clays. However, many analytes were found to be present in quantifiable concentrations in pore water, which indicates diffusion of substances from the solid phase to the aqueous phase. To assess the dispersive influence of an abrupt erosional event on dispersion, metals were measured in undisturbed bottom water and in bottom water disturbed by artificial re-suspension of fibrous sediments. The bioavailable, dissolved fraction of metals decreased in bottom water after re-suspension, probably due to the particle concentration effect. In contrast, the total concentrations of metals and number of quantifiable metals increased with particle concentration caused by re-suspension. At one station, the total concentration of chromium (Cr) was elevated to a level where it may lower the ecological status of the water body during periods of substantial erosion (e.g. spring floods or submarine landslides). Analyses of disturbed bottom water revealed, however, that minerogenic particles were preferentially re-suspended compared to organic. This suggests that physical erosion and re-suspension of fiberbank sediments might have a larger effect on dispersal of metals than on POPs.
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