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Lespes, G., Bancon-Montigny, C., Aguerre, S. and M. Potin-Gautier (2004). Organotin speciation in waters and sediments in the Adour-Garonne basin. Rev. Sci. Eau 18 (1) : 47-63. [article in French]

Original title: Spéciation des organoétains dans les eaux et sédiments du bassin Adour-Garonne.

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Because of their physico-chemical properties, organotin compounds (OTC) are widely used in industry and are present in a significant number of agricultural pesticides and domestic products. They are highly toxic and the European Community has listed them as priority pollutants in the aquatic environment. Organotins have been monitored in the Adour- Garonne basin and the Adour estuary. They are systematically present in the rivers, with butyl- and octyltins being the species most frequently detected. These species, especially octyltins, probably come from the continuous leaching of plastic tubes. The OTC concentrations ranged from just over detection limits ( 0.2-0.5 ng (Sn)/L) to 50 ng (Sn)/L in water and from 15 to 300 µg (Sn)/kg in freshwater sediment. Important seasonal variations were also observed. Thus, at the end of spring and summer, very high monophenyltin (MPhT) concentrations of up to 700-900 ng (Sn)/L were found in the dissolved phase. This phenomenon could be partly attributed to specific triphenyltin (TPhT)-based agricultural treatments, MPhT being one of the TPhT degradation products. High monobutyltin (MBT) concentrations of up to 150 ng (Sn)/L were also detected during the same period. This latter compound comes from leaching of plastics and from tri- and di-butyltin (TBT, DBT) degradation. It represents 80 to 100% of the butyl species found in sediments.

Considering OTC concentrations, speciation and toxicity, the most contaminated rivers appeared to be the Garonne, Gave de Pau, Adour, Charente and Thoré. Urban activities have significant influence on the levels of OTC contamination for most of the rivers, demonstrating continuous OTC inputs from domestic and industrial treatment plants. This is especially the case for the Charente and Thoré rivers, where some specific industrial activities devoted to leather and wood are present close to the sampling points.

A statistical study was performed on the different physico-chemical parameters (temperature, water flow rate, dissolved oxygen concentration) and OTC concentrations. A significant positive correlation between water flow rate and organotin concentrations in the dissolved phase was observed. This correlation was very important when only sampling points far from potential OTC sources were considered, the octyltin concentrations showing the strongest correlation. These observations confirm the presence of a continuous OTC diffusion into aquatic media. A comparison between the present results in Adour-Garonne and OTC monitoring performed in the Rhin-Meuse basin shows that the level of contamination was quite similar in the two basins, especially considering rivers without fluvial traffic. A similar correlation existed between OTC concentrations in the dissolved phase and water flow rate.

Special attention was given to the Adour sub-basin because of its particular geographic position and especially the large built-up area in the estuary. Butyltins remain the main OTC compound present, in terms both of frequency and concentration. According to the different sampling points in this sub-basin, mean OTC concentrations in the estuary did not appear to be really influenced by human activities located upstream, the concentrations in this part reaching 50 ng (Sn)/L in the dissolved phase. In contrast, OTC amounts found in the estuary were considerable higher. The built-up area of the estuary had a strong influence on concentrations, which were 6 to 14 times higher in the city centre than those upstream from the city (in an agricultural region). In addition to the influence of local sources, both a strong dilution effect and significant adsorption/ sedimentation phenomena in the downstream region of the estuary could be important. In the suspended matter of the Adour estuary, organotin concentrations were extremely high, reaching concentrations as high as mg (Sn)/kg. Such concentrations have already been reported for nearby regions of the harbour [Bravo et al. (2004)]. However, in the present case, there should be considerable concern considering the possible environmental consequences. The estuarine sediments appeared obviously contaminated by butyltins, but the concentrations were lower than those that could be expected (2000 µg (Sn)/ kg maximum). This observation could be explained by water flow rates as well as the tide, which could export large amounts of suspended matter outside the estuary. MPhT and TPhT were also detected, especially in sediments from the extreme downstream region of the estuary. Their presence could be attributed to the marina. The different solid/ dissolved partition coefficients were also evaluated. These partition coefficients ranged from over 40x104 for sediments up to 200x104 for suspended matter. Finally, the information on the Adour sub-basin showed that the estuary was more strongly contaminated than the upstream region.

Generally, all these data have contributed to the first evaluation of OTC contamination in the Adour-Garonne basin, and identified organotin sources. The statistical study, comparisons between the different parts of the aquatic environment, and the observation of solid/ liquid distributions lead to a better understanding of the environmental fate of OTCs. Even if differences exist between the level of contamination in freshwater and estuarine environments, the ubiquitous presence of OTC must remain a subject of concern, especially with regard to the high toxicity of organotins. For example, TBT and TPhT have lethal effects on trout and algal species at aquatic concentrations in the µg (Sn)/L range or even below this concentration [TOOBY et al. (1975), WONG et al. (1982)]. Considering this high toxicity, other studies will have to be performed in order to increase the current database concerning OTC in rivers. It is also important to know the conditions that control OTC uptake by biota, and in order to propose effective environmental management strategies.


Organotins, monitoring, river, hydrological cycle.

Corresponding author

Gaétane Lespes, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (UPPA), Laboratoire de Chimie Analytique, UMR CNRS, UPPA 5034, Avenue de l’Université, 64000 PAU, France

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Update: 2006-12-19
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