The aquatic environments of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) in China have been contaminated by various industrial chemicals from local industries. In this study, the spatial–temporal distribution of six priority phthalate esters (PAEs) in surface water and sediments from the PRD was investigated. The PAEs were detected with total concentrations (Σ6PAEs) ranging from 0.35 to 20.70 μg L−1 in surface water and dry weight ranging from 0.88 to 5.69 μg g−1 in sediments. The Σ6PAEs concentrations in surface water were higher in the wet season than those in the dry season, while the opposite pattern was observed in sediments. Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was the most abundant congener, which was higher than those reported in the literature. Risk quotients for relevant aquatic organisms were obtained and showed that most of these PAEs, in particular, butyl benzyl phthalate, DEHP and di-n-octyl phthalate, have significant potential health and ecological risks for the aquatic environment studied.

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