Heavy metal pollution and risks in a highly polluted and populated Indian river–city pair using the systems approach

Pankaj Kumar, Vandana Mishra, Shalu Yadav, Archana Yadav, Shafali Garg, Pankaj Poria, Furqan Farooqi, Ludovic F. Dumée, Radhey Shyam Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A sectorial approach for assessing heavy metal pollution in rivers neglects the inter-relationship between its environmental compartments and thus fails to report realistic pollution status and associated ecological and human health risks. Therefore, a systems approach was adopted to assess heavy metal pollution and associated risks in the Yamuna River (Delhi, India), one of the world’s most polluted and populated river–city pairs. Sampling sites selected along the river with distinct land use were uncultivated natural floodplain vegetation, marshy area, invasive community, arable land, and human settlements. The multivariate analysis identified sources of pollutions (Pb, Cd, Cr, and Ni [anthropogenic]; Fe and Zn [geogenic]). Across the land use, a high log Kp value of Zn and Pb in water–soil phase than in water–sediment phase indicates their long-range transfer, whereas low log Kp (water–soil) of Cd suggests river sediments as its reservoirs. Comparison of pollution indices of Cd, Cr, and Pb in water, sediment, and soil across the land use suggested the role of vegetation in reducing pollution in the environment. Ecological risk also gets reduced progressively from water to sediment to the soil in naturally vegetated sites. Similarly, in river water, Cr, Cd, Ni, and Pb pose carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks to adults and children, which are also reduced in sediments and soil of different vegetation regimes. This study showed the eco-remediation services rendered by natural vegetation in reducing pollution and associated ecological and human health risks. To conclude, using a systems approach has significance in assessing pollution at the ecosystem level, and focusing on riverbank land use remains significant in developing methods to reduce pollution and ecological and human health risks for sustainable riverbank management.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)60212-60231
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number40
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Ecological and health risk
  • Environmental compartment
  • Integrative approach
  • Land use
  • Pollution index


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