There has been an increasing concern in recent years over the presence of numerous micropollutants in river water. Simultaneously, risk assessment of micropollutants has become increasingly important due to their high toxicity. Therefore, the aims of this study were to characterize the levels of micropollutants in rivers, to identify the sources of these pollutants, and to evaluate their risk quotients (RQ) to the ecological system. Monitoring data from 159 sites distributed across four major rivers in Korea were collected from the Ministry of the Environment (KME) reports. Tests were performed to check for the presence of 35 pollutants in river waters, from which 29 pollutants were detected. Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) occurred most frequently, at low concentrations, whereas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates were detected at higher concentrations. Based on this study, it was suggested that the factories near the sampling sites where pollutants were found represent one of the main sources of chemicals. After comparing the industrial activities with the measured pollutants, although the released amounts were not reported, representative intermediate chemicals were found in the river water. The RQs of most VOCs were below one, despite their concentration range being higher, compared with other pollutants. Methyl bromide and di-n-octyl phthalate occurred frequently in the Han River Basin and the Nakdong River Basin, respectively, and their RQs were consistently high, so further studies should focus on their exact emission source in order to reduce ecological risk. The results suggest that it will be necessary to develop methods of risk assessment that are more tailored to the various micropollutants present in river water, in addition to the implementation of water treatment systems to reduce ecological risk.
Keywords: Environmental release; Industrial activity; Micropollutants; Monitoring; Risk assessment.
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