Temporal evolution of plastic additive contents over the last decades in two major European rivers (Rhone and Rhine) from sediment cores analyses


  • Vidal Alice
  • Papillon Laure
  • Seignemartin Gabrielle
  • Morereau Amandine
  • Euzen Cassandra
  • Grenz Christian
  • Copard Yoann
  • Eyrolle Frédérique
  • Sempere Richard


  • Organic plastic additives
  • Phthalates
  • Organophosphate esters
  • River sedimentary archives
  • Contamination trajectories
  • Historical pollution

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Although global plastic distribution is at the heart of 21st century environmental concerns, little information is available concerning how organic plastic additives contaminate freshwater sediments, which are often subject to strong anthropogenic pressure. Here, sediment core samples were collected in the Rhone and the Rhine watersheds (France), dated using 137Cs and 210Pbxs methods and analysed for nine phthalates (PAEs) and seven organophosphate esters (OPEs). The distribution of these organic contaminants was used to establish a chronological archive of plastic additive pollution from 1860 (Rhine) and 1930 (Rhone) until today. Sediment grain size and parameters related to organic matter (OM) were also measured as potential factors that may affect the temporal distribution of OPEs and PAEs in sediments. Our results show that OPE and PAE levels increased continuously in Rhone and Rhine sediments since the first records. In both rivers, ∑PAEs levels (from 9.1 ±1.7 to 487.3 ±27.0 ng g− 1 dry weight (dw) ±standard deviation and from 4.6 ±1.3 to 65.2 ±11.2 ng g− 1 dw, for the Rhine and the Rhone rivers, respectively) were higher than ∑OPEs levels (from 0.1 ±0.1 to 79.1 ±13.7 ng g− 1 dw and from 0.6 ±0.1 to 17.8 ±2.3 ng g− 1 dw, for Rhine and Rhone rivers, respectively). In both rivers, di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was the most abundant PAE, followed by diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), while tris (2-chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP) was the most abundant OPE. No relationship was found between granulometry and additives concentrations, while organic matter helps explain the vertical distribution of PAEs and OPEs in the sediment cores. This study thus establishes a temporal trajectory of PAEs and OPEs contents over the last decades, leading to a better understanding of historical pollution in these two Western European rivers.

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