Possible impacts of Hg and PAH contamination on benthic foraminiferal assemblages: an example from the Sicilian coast, central Mediterranean

R. Di Leonardo, A. Bellanca, L. Capotondi, Andrew Cundy, R. Neri

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The Palermo and Augusta urban/industrial areas (Sicily) are examples of contaminated coastal environments with a relatively high influx of unregulated industrial and domestic effluents. Three sediment box-cores were collected offshore of these urban/industrial areas in water depths of 60–150 m during two cruises (summers 2003/2004), dated by 210Pb and 137Cs, and analysed for total mercury concentration and total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentration. Benthic foraminiferal assemblages were also examined (in terms of their distribution and morphology) to assess the potential use of benthic foraminifera as bioindicators of pollutant input and environmental change in these Mediterranean shelf environments. The Hg and PAHs vs depth profiles show a clear increase in concentration with decreasing depth. Most of the sediments are highly enriched in mercury and show concentrations more than 20 times the background mercury value estimated for sediments from the Sicily Strait. The Hg and PAH concentrations appear to be potentially hazardous, grossly exceeding national and international regulatory guidelines. A reduction in abundance of benthic foraminifera, increasing percentages of tests with various morphological deformities, and the dominance of opportunistic species in more recent sediments can be correlated to anthropogenic impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-183
Number of pages16
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2007



  • Mercury
  • PAHs
  • 210Pb and 137Cs dating
  • Benthic foraminifera
  • Marine sediments
  • Sicily

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