In 1994 the quality of the uppermost sediment layer of the Elbe estuary was surveyed for various planning purposes. For example, metal contents were determined in the grain-size fraction <20 μm, and the concentrations of PAH were analyzed in the total sample, with correcting for grain-size effect being done numerically. Using the specific zinc contents in fine-grained particles, transport phenomena were recognized: particles of marine origin are transported >100 km upstream to the Hamburg area, causing contamination to decrease to about 50% of the fluvial level. The local metal contamination however varies strongly. Samples with low concentration could be detected as geogen; the samples with the highest level of contamination were assumed to have originated from periods of higher river pollution. Of the samples, 74% with medium enrichment factors (2 to 8.5 vs. background for Zn) were suspected to reflect the actual contamination level. Compared to previously reported quality criteria, sediment samples from the upper part of the estuary are still highly contaminated. In the outer part of the estuary the quality is better, but because the marine fine-grained particles still have contamination levels to class II-III in the ARGE Elbe classification system, a further reduction of sediment contamination in the whole estuary would be limited to this level.

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