Sedimentary records of sewage pollution using faecal markers in contrasting peri-urban shallow lakes

C.H. Vane (Corresponding author), A.W. Kim, S. McGowan, M.J. Leng, T.H.E. Heaton, C.P. Kendrick, P. Coombs, H. Yang, G.E.A. Swann

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Sewage contamination in shallow lake sediments is of concern because the pathogens, organic matter and nutrients contribute to the deterioration of the water-bodies' health and ecology. Sediment cores from three shallow lakes (Coneries, Church and Clifton Ponds) within Attenborough nature reserve located downstream of sewage treatment works were analysed for TOC, C/N, δ13C, δ15N, bacterial coliforms and faecal sterols. 210Pb and 137Cs activities were used to date the sediments. Elemental analysis suggests that the source of organic matter was algal and down profile changes in δ13C indicate a possible decrease in productivity with time which could be due to improvements in sewage treatment. δ15N for Coneries Pond are slightly higher than those observed in Church or Clifton and are consistent with a sewage-derived nitrate source which has been diluted by non-sewage sources of N. The similarity in δ15N values (+12% to +10%) indicates that the three ponds were not entirely hydrologically isolated. Analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) reveals that Coneries Pond had sterol concentrations in the range 20 to 30μg/g (dry wt.), whereas, those from Clifton and Church Ponds were lower. The highest concentrations of the human-sourced sewage marker 5α-coprostanol were observed in the top 40cm of Coneries Pond with values up to 2.2μg/g. In contrast, Church and Clifton Pond sediments contain only trace amounts throughout. Down-profile comparison of 5β-coprostanol/cholesterol, 5β-coprostanol/(5β-coprostanol+5α-cholestanol) and 5β-epicoprostanol/coprostanol as well as 5α-cholestanol/cholesterol suggests that Coneries Pond has received appreciable amounts of faecal contamination. Examination of 5β-stigmastanol (marker for herbivorous/ruminant animals) down core concentrations suggests a recent decrease in manure slurry input to Coneries Pond. The greater concentration of β-sitosterol in sediments from Church and Clifton Ponds as compared to Coneries is attributed in part to their greater diversity and extent of aquatic plants and avian faeces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-356
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Attenborough
  • Coprostanol
  • Gravel pit
  • Pb-210
  • Sewage
  • Stable isotopes


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