Background: The Xiangjiang River is an important drinking water resource for the Hunan province of China. It is crucial to ascertain the pollution status, influencing factors, ecological risks, and possible sources of heavy metals in the sediments of the Xiangjiang River. Sediment is both a source and a sink of heavy metals in aquatic ecosystems. In this study, surface sediment was collected from the Zhuzhou Reach of the Xiangjiang River and eight heavy metals were investigated.
Results: In all sediment samples, all eight heavy metals were detected and their average concentration fell in the order of Zn > Pb > As > Cu > Cr > Ni > Cd > Co. Assessment shows extremely serious Cd pollution and a very high potential ecological risk from Cd. According to correlation analysis and principle component analysis (PCA), As, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn originate from industrial wastewater and mineral smelting activities, whereas Co, Cr, and Ni come from natural sources. Redundancy analysis (RDA) reveals that the organic matter content and the particle size of the sediment have some influence on the enrichment of heavy metals.
Conclusion: Among all eight examined heavy metals in the surveyed area, the content of Zn, Pb, and As is the highest, and that of Cd and Co is the lowest. Despite a low level of absolute content, the Cd in sediment already renders a high ecological risk and thus calls for urgent attention. Anthropogenic activities are the main source of heavy metals in the sediment. The distribution of heavy metals is also influenced by sediment properties. The results provide guidance for controlling heavy metal pollution and protecting drinking water sources in the Xiangjiang River.