10-year time course of Hg and organic compounds in Augusta Bay: Bioavailability and biological effects in marine organisms


In the last century, many Mediterranean coastal areas have been subjected to anthropogenic disturbances from industrial activities, uncontrolled landfills, shipyards, and high maritime traffic. The Augusta Bay (eastern Sicily, Italy) represents an example of a strongly impacted coastal environment with an elevated level of sediments contamination due to the presence of one of the largest European petrochemical plants, combined with an extensive commercial and military harbor. The most significant contaminants were represented by mercury (Hg) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), derived from a former chlor-alkali plant, and other organic compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs). Since the 1970s, Augusta Bay has become internationally recognized as a contaminated marine environment, although very little information is available regarding the temporal trend of contaminants bioavailability and biological impacts on aquatic organisms. In this study, the Hg and HCB concentrations were investigated over 10 years (from 2003 to 2013) in sediments and invertebrate and vertebrate organisms; these two contaminants’ ecotoxicity was further evaluated at a biochemical and cellular level by analyzing the induction of organic biotransformation processes and DNA damages. The results showed high concentrations of Hg and HCB in sediments and their strong bioaccumulation in different species with significantly higher values than those measured in reference sites. This trend was paralleled by increased micronuclei frequency (DNA damage biomarker) and activity of the biotransformation system. While levels of chemicals in sediments remained elevated during the time course, their bioavailability and biological effects showed a gradual decrease after 2003, when the chlor-alkali plant was closed. Environmental persistence of Hg and HCB availability facilitates their bioaccumulation and affects the health status of marine organisms, with possible implications for environmental risk, pollutants transfer, and human health.

Authors: Maura Benedetti, Elena Romano, Antonella Ausili, Daniele Fattorini, Stefania Gorbi, Chiara Maggi, Andrea Salmeri, Daniela Salvagio Manta, Giulio Sesta, Mario Sprovieri, Francesco Regoli
; Full Source: Frontiers in public health 2022 Sep 21;10:968296. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.968296.