Multi-element analyses of sediment samples from the Santos-Cubatão Estuarine System were carried out to investigate the spatial and seasonal variability of trace-element concentrations. The study area contains a rich mangrove ecosystem that is a habitat for tens of thousands of resident and migratory birds, some of them endangered globally. Enrichments of metals in fine-grained surface sediments are, in decreasing order, Hg, Mn, La, Ca, Sr, Cd, Zn, Pb, Ba, Cu, Cr, Fe, Nb, Y, Ni and Ga, relative to pre-industrial background levels. The maximum enrichment ranged from 49 (Hg) to 3.1 (Ga). Mercury concentrations were greater in the Cubatão river than in other sites, while the other elements showed greater concentrations in the Morrão river. Concentrations of Mn were significantly greater in winter and autumn than in summer and spring. However, other elements (e.g. Cd and Pb) showed the opposite, with greater concentrations in summer and spring. This study suggests that seasonal changes in physical and chemical conditions may affect the degree of sediment enrichment and therefore make the assessment of contamination difficult. Consequently, these processes need to be considered when assessing water quality and the potential contamination of biota.
The concentrations of mercury in surface sediments (<63mum fraction) from Santos-Cubatão Estuary, located in State of São Paulo, southeast Brazil, were determined to obtain the level of contamination in this highly polluted area. Fifteen stations distributed though seven rivers were sampled (156 samples collected) from September 1997 to August 1998 (12 stations sampled monthly) and during March, June, September and December 1998 (three stations sampled quarterly). The levels of mercury varied from 0.10 to 6.77 ppm, with the index of geoaccumulation of the rivers varying between grades 1 and 3 (annual average). The Cubatão is the most polluted river and the main agent of Hg dispersion in the study area. Geochemical data revealed that Hg levels in surface from Santos-Cubatão Estuary at present are as elevated as in past (for instance, by comparison 1980's), when Cubatão city was known as one of the most polluted cities in the world.