Sci Total Environ 2019 Jan 22;646:37-48. Epub 2018 Jul 22.
Water Research Institute, National Research Council of Italy, IRSA-CNR, Section of Brugherio, Via del Mulino, 19, 20861 Brugherio, MB, Italy.
Reconstructions of past fluvial contamination through the analysis of deep sediment cores are rarely reported in literature. We examined the phosphorus fractions in a deep (2.6 m) sediment core of the Lambro River downstream of the highly anthropized Milan metropolitan area and upstream of the Po river the main Italian watercourse. The core covered the period 1962-2011. Total phosphorus concentrations resulted typical of a strongly impacted environment (4788 mg P kg DW on average) with the highest concentrations related to the 1960s (7639 mg P kg DW) reflecting the period of maximum demographic growth. Afterwards, phosphorus concentrations decreased thanks to the infrastructural and legislative initiatives carried out in the 1980s and the 1990s to reduce the impact of urban point sources. Subsequently, total phosphorus concentrations stabilized on values around 3000 mg P kg DW and did not diminish further, even after the second phase of infrastructural interventions carried out in the second half of the 2000s. This was related to the increasing relative impact of the combined sewer overflows in the sewage system and to the strong phosphorus enrichment of the basin. Most of the phosphorus was in inorganic forms (86% of the total) that have been identified as the final target of the domestic effluent inputs. The contribution of organic phosphorus was lower but constant over the period 1962-2011. It likely originated from the agricultural areas located south of the city of Milan. In conclusion, this study underlines how past interventions have been effective in reducing urban point sources but it also highlights the current difficulties related to the growing importance of other sources influenced by the surface runoff (i.e., combined sewer overflows and agriculture). The study also emphasizes a general phosphorus enrichment of the Lambro River basin and its impact on the Po River and the Adriatic Sea.