Levels and homologue profiles of PCDD/Fs in sediments along the Swedish coast of the Baltic Sea
Background, aim, and scope The primary aim of this study was to explore the variations in PCDD/F levels and homologue profiles of Baltic surface sediments by comprehensively analyzing polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) in samples from a large number of sites, encompassing not only previously known hotspot areas, but also sites near other potential PCDD/F sources, in pristine reference areas (in which there was no industrial activity) and offshore sites. Materials and methods Surface sediment samples (146 in total) were collected at various points along the Swedish coast and offshore areas. In addition, bulk deposition was sampled, monthly, at a single site in northern Sweden during 1 year. The concentrations of tetra- through octa-substituted CDD/Fs were determined in both matrices. Results Highly elevated concentrations of PCDD/Fs were found at many sites in coastal areas and concentrations were also slightly elevated in some offshore areas. Homologue profiles varied substantially amongst samples from coastal sites, while those from offshore and other pristine sediments were relatively similar. The offshore sediments showed different profiles from those observed in the deposition samples. Sediment levels of PCDD/Fs were not generally significantly correlated to organic carbon levels, except in some pristine areas. Comparison of data obtained in this and previous studies suggest that both their levels and profiles are similar today to those observed 20 years ago in coastal and offshore areas. The only detected trend is that their levels appear to have decreased slightly in the offshore area of the Bothnian Sea. Discussion The localization of hotspot areas along the coast, the lack of consensus between PCDD/F profiles of sediments and general background, and their weak correlations with organic carbon suggest that PCDD/Fs in the study area largely originate from local/regional emissions. However, due to complicating factors such as sediment dynamics and land upheaval, it is not possible to conclude whether these pollutants derive from recent emissions or from a combination of recent emissions and re-distribution of previous inputs. Conclusions The results show that: elevated levels of PCDD/Fs are present in both coastal and offshore areas of the Baltic Sea, the major hotspots are close to the shore, and there are large variations in profiles, indicating that local emissions are (or have been) the major causes of pollution. Recommendations and perspectives In order to identify other hotspot areas and trace sources, comprehensive analysis of PCDD/Fs in surface sediments is needed in all areas of the Baltic Sea that have not been previously investigated. The high levels of PCDD/Fs observed in surface sediments also indicate a need to elucidate whether they are due mainly to current emissions or a combination of recent pollution and re-distribution of historically deposited pollutants. To do so, better understanding of sediment dynamics and present-day inputs, such as riverine inputs, industrial effluents, and leakage from contaminated soil is required. There are indications that contaminated sediments have a regional impact on fish contamination levels. However, as yet there is no statistically robust evidence linking contaminated sediments with elevated levels in Baltic biota. It should also be noted that the Baltic Sea is being massively invaded by the deep-burrowing polychaete Marenzielleria ssp., whose presence in sediments has been shown to increase water concentrations of hydrophobic pollutants. In awareness of this, it is clear that high levels in sediments cannot be ignored in risk assessments. In order to investigate the emission trends more thoroughly, analysis of PCDD/Fs in offshore sediment cores throughout the Baltic Sea is also recommended.