In this study, we report long-term measurements of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) collected from the surface waters of seven river basins across China. The spatial distribution, source apportionment, and potential risk assessment of 16 USEPA designated PAHs were reviewed. Water samples were collected from the Songhua River Basin (SRB), Yangtze River Basin (YtRB), Yellow River Basin (YRB), Pearl River Basin (PRB), Huai River Basin (HuRB), Liao River Basin (LRB), and Hai River Basin (HRB). Our results show that the total PAH concentration in the surface waters from primary river basins ranged from 99.60 to 3805.00 ng/L in the dry season with a geometric mean value of 797.96 ng/L, and from 235.84 to 11,812.20 ng/L in the wet season with a geometric mean value of 820.75 ng/L. In the river basins examined, the geometric concentration of ΣPAHs ranged from 215.50 ng/L to 1969.91 ng/L, with a median value of 837.73 ng/L. In the decreasing order across seven river basins, the geometric mean ΣPAHs content varied as: SRB (1969.91 ng/L) > LRB (1155.87 ng/L) > YRB (884.06 ng/L) > PRB (837.73 ng/L) > HuRB (559.10 ng/L) > HRB (261.84 ng/L) > YtRB (215.50 ng/L). Moreover, the total PAH concentration was slightly lower in the dry season than in the wet season. The pollution level of PAHs in North China was higher than in South China. No discernible temporal trend was observed in ΣPAHs observed in China during the past decade. Overall, PAHs designated for priority control measures were Nap, Phe, and Flu; as 2- and 3-ring PAHs were the dominant compounds in the river basins, accounting for 33.7% and 36.9% of the total PAHs, respectively. Source analysis revealed that coal and biomass combustion were the main contributors to PAHs in the river basins, accounting for about 40% of the total. The geometric mean concentrations of individual PAH, including BaP, BaA, BbF, BkF, Ind, and DaA in some water samples exceeded the environmental quality standards of both China and the United States. According to metrics describing eco-toxicity from water contamination, the river basin was at moderate risk in YtRB, YRB, PRB, HuRB, and HRB, but at high risk in SRB and LRB, suggesting that targeted control measures or remedial actions should be undertaken to decrease PAH contamination in China.
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