Contamination by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the southwest Caspian Sea was assessed by examination of 45 sediment samples, collected from the coasts of the Guilan Province in 2012 and analyzed for 29 PAHs. The concentrations of PAHs were in the range of 232.1–1,014 ng g−1 dry weight (mean 520 ± 246.4 ng g−1). The predominance of alkyl-substituted naphthalenes and phenanthrenes and the higher contributions of petrogenic compounds (NPD = 35.4–74.4%) compared to pyrogenic PAH compounds (COM = 18.1–47.4%) reveal a petrogenic source for PAHs with ubiquitous distribution in the study area. Offshore increase of total PAH concentrations was found to be correlated with increase of organic matter content of sediments, but no correlations with particle size fractions were found. The evaluation of ecotoxicological risk by sediment quality guidelines indicated that total PAH concentrations at all sites were below the effects range-low (ERL), but some individual petrogenic PAHs at some stations were significantly above their ERL and likely to adversely affect benthic biota. According to the diagnostic ratios used, most stations revealed the major source of the PAHs to be petrogenic, but some stations suggested a mixed petrogenic-pyrogenic source.

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