AbstractDespite their presence in almost every technical device, little is known about the occurrence, distribution, and fate of technology-critical elements (TCEs) within the environment. Due to high economic demands and short product lifespans as well as low recycling rates, many TCEs appear to become emerging contaminants.
Within the scope of this work, 57 sediment samples from the German part of the Rhine river, as well as various tributaries, were collected to study the occurrence and distribution of TCEs. This specific catchment area has consistently been subjected to strong anthropogenic influences over the last century. Hierarchical Cluster analysis, as well as principal component analysis were used to gain first insights into the spatial distribution and possible sources of TCEs along the Rhine.
Obtained mass fractions in conjunction with corresponding geoaccumulation indices (Igeo) provide first indications of a possible enrichment along the Rhine for the TCEs of interest (Ga, Ge, Nb, In, Te, rare earth elements, and Ta). Especially the mass fractions of Zn, Ge, In, La, Sm, and Gd exhibit significant anthropogenic inputs. For stations characterized by high Ge and In mass fractions, element fingerprints imply possible atmospheric deposition stemming from e.g. combustion processes. Distinct anomalies of La and Sm most likely originate from discharges located at the city of Worms into the Upper Rhine. Statistical analysis of all analyzed 55 elemental mass fractions revealed similar behavior of TCEs compared to classical heavy metals. Diffuse as well as point sources of TCEs are likely. As a result, this study provides further insight into the role of TCEs as potential emerging contaminants in the environment.