Open Access

Problems in the assessment of heavy-metal levels in estuaries and the formation of a pollution index

  • D. L. Tomlinson1,
  • J. G. Wilson2,
  • C. R. Harris3 and
  • D. W. Jeffrey4
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen33:BF02414780


Most estuaries receive a high heavy-metal input from industries. This is reflected in the relatively high levels found in numerous estuarine organisms and in sediments. Many indicators have been suggested for facilitating the detection of heavy-metal pollution, but the problems in using these indicators to evaluate the metal loading of estuaries are considerable. Variations in species composition, and conditions at different sites, differences in season of sampling, and age of organism, as well as different metal levels in different parts of the organism, make the interpretation of results difficult. The levels reported here, similar to those in other unpolluted estuaries, have been used to suggest a baseline concentration for heavy metals in estuaries. The concept of a baseline is fundamental to the formation of a “Biological Quality Index” and “Pollution Load Index,” and a formula for such an index is suggested and tested at a preliminary level against published data for an English and a European estuary.