Cartagena Bay (CB) is an industrialized site in the Caribbean. The aim of this study was to evaluate contamination patterns by trace elements in sediments from CB. Sediment samples from twelve sites in CB, and three at the Grand Marsh of Santa Marta (GMSM), a reference site, were collected during dry and rainy seasons. Forty-four trace elements were evaluated employing ICP-MS, and mercury (Hg) was measured using a Hg analyzer. Most contaminated sites corresponded to stations related to repair and maintenance of ships, with high concentrations of Cr, Cu, As and Cd; as well as in areas where cargo transshipment centers and cruise ship terminals operate, which showed elevated levels of Ba. Stations receiving inputs from petrochemical and fertilizer plants displayed high content of Pb. At the station where an extinct chlor-alkali plant was located, a high total Hg level was found, highlighting its persistence. At least 70% of the samples presented Cr, Cu, and As concentrations that were ≥ Threshold Effect Level, < Probable Effect Level, ≥ Effects Range Low and < Effects Range Medium, suggesting adverse biological effects could occur occasionally. Potential Ecological risk values revealed that only Hg and Cd may generate deleterious effects to the aquatic life. However, with few exceptions, sediment samples from CB can be considered as moderately to heavily contaminated, as shown by the Igeo. In short, the principles of ecosystem-based management should be implemented along Cartagena Bay to guarantee safe levels of trace elements in sediments and a better quality of this estuary.
Keywords: Industrial activities; Risk analysis; Sediment quality; Toxicity.
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