The occurrence of PAHs and faecal sterols in Dublin Bay and their influence on sedimentary microbial communities

Brian T. Murphy, Shane S. O'Reilly, Xavier Monteys, Barry F. Reid, Michal T. Szpak, Margaret V. McCaul, Sean F. Jordan, Christopher C R Allen, Brian P. Kelleher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The source, concentration, and potential impact of sewage discharge and incomplete organic matter (OM) combustion on sedimentary microbial populations were assessed in Dublin Bay, Ireland. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and faecal steroids were investigated in 30 surface sediment stations in the bay. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) content at each station was used to identify and quantify the broad microbial groups present and the impact of particle size, total organic carbon (%TOC), total hydrogen (%H) and total nitrogen (%N) was also considered. Faecal sterols were found to be highest in areas with historical point sources of sewage discharge. PAH distribution was more strongly associated with areas of deposition containing high %silt and %clay content, suggesting that PAHs are from diffuse sources such as rainwater run-off and atmospheric deposition. The PAHs ranged from 12 to 3072 ng/g, with 10 stations exceeding the suggested effect range low (ERL) for PAHs in marine sediments. PAH isomer pair ratios and sterol ratios were used to determine the source and extent of pollution. PLFAs were not impacted by sediment type or water depth but were strongly correlated to, and influenced by PAH and sewage levels. Certain biomarkers such as 10Me16:0, i17:0 and a17:0 were closely associated with PAH polluted sediments, while 16:1ω9, 16:1ω7c, Cy17:0, 18:1ω6, i16:0 and 15:0 all have strong positive correlations with faecal sterols. Overall, the results show that sedimentary microbial communities are impacted by anthropogenic pollution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-224
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1-2
Early online date05 Mar 2016
Publication statusEarly online date - 05 Mar 2016


  • Faecal sterols
  • Microbial impact
  • PAHs
  • PLFAs
  • Sediment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography
  • Pollution


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