Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 903-914
doi:10.4236/jep.2011.27103 Published Online September2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted
River of a Megalopolis
Alejandro Gabriel García-Reiriz1*, Jorge Federico Magallanes2, Marjan Vracko3, Jure Zupan3,
Silvia Reich4, Daniel Salvador Cicerone2,5
1Department of Analytical Chemistry, Faculty of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, National University of Rosario, Rosario
Institute of Chemistry (IQUIR-CONICET), Rosario, Argentina; 2Gerencia Químic a, Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica (CNEA),
Buenos Aires, Argentina; 3National Institute of Chemistry, Ljubljana, Slovenia; 4Universidad Nacional de General San Martín. San
Martín, Argentina; 5Instituto de Investigación en Ingeniería Ambiental – 3iA, Universidad Nacional de General San Martín,. San
Martín, Argentin.
Received April 28th, 2011; revised June 27th, 2011; accepted August 8th, 2011.
A chemometrical study regarding a 10-years water quality monitoring plan a t 15 sampling points along a section of the
Reconquista River and its stream channels, which embraces 21 campaigns, is presented. The original data were
pre-treated in or der to eliminate missing data and outliers , obtaining a final data matrix of 270 samples containing 26
physical-chemistry variables each. Multivariate statistical methods like multi curve resolution, canonical correlation
analysis and factor analysis methods, as well as current univariate statistics were applied. The interpretation was sim-
plified when varia bles were separated in groups containing environmentally and chemically related variables instead of
analyzing them all together. These methods have shown that the presence of metals likely come from at least 3 different
type of sources. Although the stream channels arriving to the main river course are highly polluted, their flow rates are
so low that do not significantly decrease its water quality. They mainly contribute to the high levels of biochemi-
cal-oxygen demand and chemical-oxygen demand as well as nitrogen-content species. Furthermore, regarding metals,
the pollutants coming from the upstream of the river is higher than those introduced by all channels.
Keywords: Surface Water, Water Pollution, Chemometric, Multivariate Statistic
1. Introduction
It is clear today that fresh-water flows are an essential
human resource for the mankind. About 20% of normal
flow of world’s rivers is used by humankind’s necessities
like agriculture, hydropower and domestic use. As a
consequence, several activities water-dependent re-
sources, like agricultu ral and industrial as well as heavily
dense populated cities with inadequate sanitary infra-
structure, have seriously compromised the quality of
surface waters because agricultural runoff, the introduc-
tion of heavy metals by industrial untreated waste, or-
ganic persistent compounds and pathogens. Furthermore,
the shanty towns waste the dirty water by channelling it
into the sewer to the surface water flows. The discharge
of untreated wastewater is a growing environmental
concern, with many rivers being turned into open sewers.
Only about 10 percent of wastewater in developing
countries is collected and only about 10 percent of exist-
ing wastewater treatment plants operate reliably and effi-
ciently [1]. As a consequence, many downstream popula-
tions receive water of low quality, unsuitable for domes-
tic use and protection of aquatic life.
When river water approaches to the lowlands their
transported contaminants impact the low basin area, par-
ticularly in the coastal zones, where more than half of the
world’s population lives. As a matter of fact, 12 out of 17
world’s mega cities, whose populations are grater than 10
millions are located at coastal zones, confirmed Envi-
ronment Matters (2003).
In Argentina, Buenos Aires City and its suburbs is one
of the coastal megalopolis having more than 11 millions
of inhabitants. The Matanza-Riachuelo and Reconquista
rivers are both the two most polluted rivers of the district.
Both of them flow into Rio de la Plata Estuary. A local
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis
study [2] reported that this estuary is 30.212 km2; with a
river flow rate of 18.000 m3/s; being the source of drink-
able water for Buenos Aires’s inhabitants.
The middle basin of the Reconquista River is being
studied by interest of the San Martín Municipality (see
Figures 1-3). Three affluent channels are located in this
sector, which collect non treated effluents and solid
waste coming from industries and populated irregular
settlements. These are low flow channels in comparison
with the river, but they are highly polluted.
The Arroyo Moron stream comes from highly industrial-
ized areas; it is larger than the channels and tributes to
the Reconquista Rive r next to the initial p art of the sector
under study. Another remarkable fact is the presence of
two landfills on the shore of this sector, one of them is
presently being filled and the other was closed in January
Figure 1. Location of Reconquista River in Bue nos Ai r es Province. It flows to Río de la Plata River.
Figure 2. Close sight of the sector under study in the Reconquista River.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis905
Figure 3. Detailed sight of the sector under study show ing sample points and main geographical features.
31, 2004, but it is still biologically and chemically active.
Environmental systems are rather complex to interpret
because the amount of different variables required to be
taken into account and the complicate relationships
among them. These characteristics determine that the
data have to be processed by chemometrical techniques
and particularly by multivariate statistical methods. The
description and interpretation of environmental systems
requires the development of mathe matical models of two
different kinds. One of them is the mechanistic model [3],
which try to describe the system applying a combination
of known basic scientific laws, like mass transport,
chemical equilibrium, thermal and mechanical convec-
tion, etc. The other one, which is of our specific interest
here, applies statistical and computational methods based
on different strategies, but with the same objective. This
methodology of analysis includes several multivariate
statistical techniques like clusters, principal components
and factor analysis, partial least squares, artificial neural
networks, etc. All these methods are widely described,
for instance, in the following References: [4-7].
This work presents a first water-pollution analysis of
the Reconquista River and its present state. The concept
of studying a partial section of the river instead of the
complete basin meets the requirement of intensive sam-
pling with a low budget.
2. Sampling and Data Base
Samples were collected during a period of 10 years,
1995-2005. Sample points are shown in Figure 3. Two
or three sampling campaigns were carried out every year.
Samples were taken at all sites during the same day.
After elimination of variables with few measurements
or occasional sample points with lack of information, we
obtained a complete data base matrix M270×26 of 270
samples with 26 measured variables each, which are
shown in Table 1.
Analytical chemistry methods were carried out under
appropriate normalized procedures for every variable.
Most variables have a lognormal distribution and a
few of them are normally distributed. Those variables
values recorded as zero were changed to the average be-
tween the detection’s limit of th e method and zero. When
comparisons among them altogether were necessary, they
were scaled to 0 - 1 range using a minimax algorithm:
max min
where xs is the scaled value, x is the original value, and
xmin and xmax are the extremes of its range. For instance,
Figure 4 shows spreads of all 26 variables. It would have
been impossible to show them altogether with their
original units because of their different scales. This fig-
ure also shows the extreme values of many variables,
which strongly affect the results of calculus, thus needing
them to be analyzed as outliers or not. Different criteria
have been used to remove (or not) extreme values shown
in Figure 4: robust Mahalanobis detection [8] and pro-
fessional judgmental. Further analyses have been made
on this data base, either scaled or with its original unities.
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Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis
Table 1. Physical and chemical measured variables and
used acronyms.
Variable Acronym
Alcalinity Al
Arsenic As
Cloride Cl
Conductivity Cl
Biochemical oxygen demand BOD
Chemical oxygen demand COD
Methylene blue active substances MBAS
Phosphorous- as ortophosphate
Nitrogen- as amonium N_AMON
Nitrites NO2
Nitrates NO3
Organic nitrogen N_ORG
Total Kjeldahl nitrogen NTK
Disolved oxygen DO
Total residues after evaporatión TR
Total disolved solids
Total suspended solids
Sedimentable solids at 10' SS10H
Sedimentable solids at 2 hs SS2H
Sulfide S
Cadmium Cd
Zinc Zn
Copper Cu
Chromium Cr
Iron Fe
Manganese Mn
Nickel Ni
Lead Pb
3. Chemometric Methods of Analysis
Multivariate techniques are methods of analysis gener-
ally recognized as very well known tools to study envi-
ronmental problems [9,10]. From this kind of methods,
Multivariate Curve Resolution (MCR) [11,12] has been
selected as one of the most advantageous to have a close
look of our system. To apply the MCR method, the
minimax-scaled-matrix data base M270×26 was reorgan-
ized by assembling every sampling campaign as a
sub-matrix, which includes all its sampling sites as row
vectors. These row vectors embrace the 26 physi-
cal-chemistry parameters measured. Not necessarily all
these sub-matrixes have the same number of rows, but
the same number of columns. Twenty one of these
sub-matrixes were stacked to form the matrix D270×26,
which contain the data spatially and temporally organ-
ized. Then, the matrix D allows MCR to analyze the d ata
in space and time dimensions.
MCR is a bilinear based method of inverse calibration;
it can be basically described as a matrix decomposition:
DSL E (2)
where D is th e data matrix, S is the scores matrix related
with the objects and L is the load ings matrix related with
variables. Every vector of S is associated with a vector of
L through a product that represents a component. It is
supposed that each component represents a kind of
source (or combination of similar sources) which con-
tributes to spoil the system. A sketch of the calculus is
shown in Figure 5. The bilinear model in Equation (2)
assumes that the major sources of the experimental data
variance can be explained by a small number of compo-
nents defining the two reduced-size factor matrices
(scores and loadings). The model described by this equa-
tion assumes that the measured concentration of a con-
taminant (variable) in a particular sample is the sum of a
reduced number of contributions of this contaminant
coming from different sources. It is therefore a mixture
analysis problem with unknown sources which have to
be estimated from the analysis. Since the solution of
Equation (2) is ambiguous, the matrix decomposition in
this equation has to be performed under some constraints.
The decomposition of Equation (2) is similar to Principal
Components Analysis (PCA), but PCA decomposition is
performed under orthogonal constraints, loadings nor-
malization and maximum explained variance for the
successive extracted components. Under these con-
straints, PCA provides unique solutions. However, these
solutions are an abstract linear combination of the true
experimental variance sources and, although they are
very useful for data exploration and summary, in many
cases they can be too complicated in terms of environ-
mental interpretation. Although there are many good
textbooks about PCA, we address to the interested reader
to Jolliffe [13]. Unlike PCA, the matrix bilinear decom-
position performed by MCR alternating-least-squares
(ALS) uses softer natural constraints and as a result, the
interpretation of loading an d score p rofiles are more easy
and reasonable from an environmental point of view
[9,14]. Constraints used in this work during the MCR-
ALS bilinear matrix decomposition were non-negativity
and normalization of loadings to equal length as those
used in previous works [14].
In this study another applied method was canonical
correlation analysis (CCA). It is a way of measuring the
linear relationship between two subsets of multidimen-
sional variables. It begin when the original data set of n
variables and p objects are grouped into two data sets,
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis 907
Figure 4. Spreads of all 26 variables scaled according to minimax algorithm. See equation 1 in the text.
Figure 5. Sketch of the MCR calculus (see te xt).
X(p × nX) and Y(p × nY), where n = nX + nY, The method
searches for a linear combination of the variables in X
and another linear combination of the variables in Y to
optimize the correlation between both sets. Then, the
canonical correlations measure the strength of associa-
tion between the two sets of variables. Hotelling devel-
oped CCA [10], becoming then a standard tool in statis-
tical analysis, applied to economics, medical, and eco-
logical studies [15,16].
CCA proposes new va riables U(p × nX) and V(p × nY)
presented in Equations (3) and (4).
UXA (3)
VYB (4)
The matrix A (nX × nX) and B (nY × nY), defining the
transformation are chosen in orther that the correlation C
(U,V) is maximum. Thus, it is possible to find new vari-
ables as combinations of the original ones, which reveal
existing correlations between two different sets. Despite
the fact that canonical variables are arbitrary, they can be
then interpreted from the previous knowledge of the sub-
ject matter. Other methods, like principal component
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis
analysis (PCA) and univariate statistic, have been applied
to check particular results.
4. Results and Discussion
Most of the chemical variables considered in this study
overpass the concentration limits established as protec-
tion of aquatic life and consequently the water quality of
the river is in general of poor quality due to pollutants
coming from untreated domestic and industrial effluents
poured directly on the river. The distribution of metal-
cations concentrations along the river is shown in Fig-
ures 6 and 7. Figure 6 cannot shows the extreme values
(mg·L–1) of Zn (2.94), Cr (1.91), Ni (0.20) and Pb (0 .11),
but those of Cd and Cu (0.05 and 0.34 mg·L–1 respec-
tively). Fe and Mn have not been considered here be-
cause they have high concentrations due to their geo-
logical origin.
In these figures can be seen an increase of cation con-
centrations from RVI to RIII sampling points and then a
progressive fall. The rational explanation for the incre-
ment of concentrations is the entrance of the Moron
stream into the Reconquista River, with significant high
values of dissolved salts. High levels of conductivity
induce a compression of the double layer of water sus-
pended particles,, thus decreasing the repulsion among
them and consequentelyfavouring their coagulation and
further precipitation in the main course [17] with the
concomitant lowering of cation concentrations. The ex-
istence of a deposit of metals in the sediment between
points RII and RI has been checked. This behaviour has
been explained [18] through a water quality model that
contemplates the adsorption of metals onto suspended
particles and the precipitation into the sediments before
reaching RI. Moreover, the average of sum of cations
(without Fe and Mn) for the sampling points RV (en-
trance point) and RI (exit point) have similar values
without statistically significant differences (0.535 and
0.429 respectively); this means that the cations coming
from channels do not produce a significant increment of
metals content in the water quality of the river at RI.
Figure 7 shows the role of Fe and Mn. They are of
geological origin and follow the same path than cations
of different sources reinforcing the precipitation mecha-
nism explained in the previous paragr aph.
The interpretation of MCR’s results is simplified if in-
stead of analyzing the variables all together, they are
separated in groups containing environmentally and
chemically rela ted variables. W ith this purpose we formed
three groups of variables described in Table 2. Results for
the first group are shown in Figure 8(a) (singular value
decomposition (SVD) of the data matrix) and Figure 8(b)
(level of significance for each variable according to their
loading values). By selecting the first three factors of the
SVD allow to reach 58.57% of the cumulative variance.
The first row of Figure 8(b) shows a strong relationship
among metals, S and SS2H, this is a usual expected result
because metals that easily combine with sulphide form
very insoluble compounds, ending up associated to solid
suspended particles. Cappari [19] and Nader [18] have
arrived to similar conclusions in t he same site.
Figure 6. The distribution of metal-cation concentrations along the river in the sector under study. Fe and Mn are not shown.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis909
Figure 7. MCR result for metal-related variables.
Figure 8. MCR result for nitrogen-related variables.
Table 2. Groups of variables for MCR analysis.
Group Variables
Metals related SS2H, Phenols, S, Cd, Zn, Cu, Cr, Mn, Ni, Pb
Nitrogen related MBAS, NO2, NO3, N_ORG, NTK, Phenols
Oxigen related Alkalinity, BOD, COD, DO, S, Phenols
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis
The second row of Figure 8(b) shows that Cd and Pb
are also associated, indicating a possible different source
(or sources) for these contaminants, phenols are included
in this group. The third row of Figure 8(b) shows the
contribution of the sed iment as a source of pollution. We
did not consider Fe because it is of geogenic origin and
its high concentrations are permanent around all the area.
Its levels correlate with Mn concentrations, demonstrat-
ing that the latter one has the same origin, although with
lower concentratio ns than Fe.
Figure 9 shows the MCR profiles of the nitrogen re-
lated variables: in this case three factors of the SVD
represents 80.49% of accumulative variance. The sig-
nificant contribution of MBAS, NO2, N_ORG, NTK and
in low proportion phenols, are shown in the first row of
Figure 9. These variables reveal the presence of reduced
forms of nitrogen species as well as other species like
phenols and surfactants. By relating the object scores
with the sampling sites, it is possible to show that this
component is mainly present in the lowest stream of the
channels. The same procedure helped us to determine
that the oxidized chemical species of nitrogen, NO3,
appears in the upper stream of the channels. Moreover,
the most reduced forms like NH3 and NTK are present in
the river (see Figure 9).
The third group of variables, those related with oxygen,
reinforces the previous result. It is shown in Figure 10
that dissolved oxygen is significantly present in the
channels (upper stream) whereas a reductant media exist
in the main river course, according to the weights of
BOD, COD, S and phenols.
Canonical correlation has been used to explore other
class of relationships, those that would be established
between cations and variables related to organic material.
Furthermore, we want to know if this possible relation-
ship is the same at the river and at the channels. Within
this frame, the X set includes variables of the B and C
groups of Table 2 (DBO, DQO, MBAS, N_ORG and
NTK); and the Y set includes metal concentrations (Cd,
Zn, Cu, Cr, Mg, Ni and Pb).
Figure 11(a) shows a high correlation between the X
and Y groups of variables with reference to the river,
whereas for the channels, a low correlation is observed
between the same groups of variables (Figure 11(b)).
Figure 9. MCR result for oxygen-related variables.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis911
Figure 10. Correlation between groups of variables. Probably-complexating-agents and metallic (see text, Equations (5) and
(6)). At the channels (a) and at the river (b).
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Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Figure 11. PCA loadings show correlations at the river (a) and at the channels (b).
The structures of the U and V values for the river (UR
and VR) are :
UR = 1.23% DBO +1.91% DQO + 3.49% MBAS
+ 66.53% N_ORG + 26.83%NTK (5)
VR = 3.54% Cd + 1.85% Zn + 1.30% Cu + 0.01% Cr +
0.07% Mg + 90.14% Ni +3.07% Pb (6)
Since CAA also maximizes the correlation between
each group of variables, it can also be highlighted that
N_ORG and NTK are the most significant nitrogen re-
lated chemicals and, among metals, Ni contributes with
the main part of the total variability.
A different behaviour is observed for the channels,
showing a significant proportion of uncorrelated pres-
ence of chemicals associated with nitrogen and metals
respectively. When the structure of the U and V variables
for the channels (UC and VC) is analyzed for the first
canonical components we obtain:
UC = 6.37% DBO +0.77% DQO +0.01% MBAS +
40.22% N_ORG + 52.62%NTK (7)
VC = 23.99% Cd + 6.32% Zn + 4.53% Cu + 20.04% Cr +
8.16% Mg + 8.31% Ni +28.72% Pb (8)
The structure of the nitrogen related variables is very
similar for either channels or river sites but, the composi-
tion of the metal variables is completely different. Thus,
a mixture of metals, lightly correlated with nitrogen
variables is found in channels monitored sites while these
nitrogen variables show a strong correlation with Ni
concentrations for the river waters.
We looked for more evidence supporting these results
through principal components analysis (PCA). By de-
veloping two PCA with the same variab les used for CCA,
one for the river and the other one for channels, the ob-
tained results show agreements with those of CCA (see
Figures 12(a) and (b)). The PCA loadings at the river
(Figure 12(a)) show a good correlation among these
variables with exception of NTK, MBAS and Cadmium.
It is remarkable the correlation of all metal cations with
other variables related to organic materials and organic
nitrogen, possibly suggesting the co mplexation of cations
with organic matter. This is consistent with previous re-
sults that found high levels of dissolved metals in the
main course of the river [14]. The channels (Figure
12(b)) do not show the same correlation with organic
nitrogen, reinforcing the results found with CCA. The
difference between channels and river could be explained
because organic nitrogen have much higher median in
the river (11.80 g·L–1) than in the channels (6.85 g·L–1)
while the median of the sum of cations (without consid-
ering iron and manganese) keep almost the same: 0.10
g·L–1 for channels and 0.15 g·L–1 for the river.
5. Conclusions
Univariate and multivariate statistical techniques are both
of importance to analyze a multivariate problem. Com-
plex multivariate systems like environmental ones re-
quire a sequential application of both methods. It is pref-
erable to start with multivariate methods to arrive at gen-
eral and clear conclusions, and then, to check those pos-
sible doubtful points or conclusions wi t h u nivari a te to ols.
Because environmental systems involve many vari-
ables of different origins, like chemical, physical, mete-
orological, geological, etc., it is difficult to tray to relate
Multivariate Chemometric Analysis of a Polluted River of a Megalopolis913
Zn Cu
Ni Pb
-1.0 -
Factor 1 : 32.16%
-1. 0
-0. 5
Factor 2 : 15.74%
-1.0 -
Fac tor 1 : 2 4.98%
Fa c tor 2 : 1 7 .49%
Figure 12. Distribution of Fe and Mn along the river.
all variables at the same time. To facilitate the analysis,
the variables should be divided into groups according to
their environmental compatibility, as we exp lained in the
results section.
The river is already highly polluted at the point in
which it reaches the studied sector. Its contamination by
most of the measured pollutants overpasses the limits of
protection of aquatic life. Along the studied sector, the
presence of metals seems to come from at least three
different kinds of sources as the MCR result shows.
Regarding metal-cation concentrations, there are no
significant differences between the ones measured at the
entrance from those determined at the exit of the studied
sector. Even though the Arroyo Morón, one of the con-
sidered streams, significantly increases the concentration
of dissolved salts (and in this way the cation contents) in
the main river course from RVI to RII; a deposit of met-
als has been identified between RII and RI, probably due
to precipitation with sulphides and adsorption to sus-
pended particulate material, all of them falling to the
sediments. This situation requires the management of the
sediments in this area as hazardous waste.
Finally, at their sources, th e channels show compatible
levels of DO, BOD and COD and oxidized species of
nitrogen for aquatic life pro tection. The contamination of
channels increases along their courses, the content of
dissolved oxygen diminishes toward the river because the
presence of shanty towns in the area without sewer ser-
vices and the direct input of untreated industrial effluents.
When channels arrive to the main stream, they end up
polluting the river with organic matter coming from
waste, sewage, etc., although the river is in worse condi-
tion than channels. These chan nels contribute to increase
the pollution of the river, either of its water or its sedi-
ment. The lack of sewers is one of the main causes of this
type of pollution.
6. Acknowledgments
This study is part of an International Atomic Energy
Commission (IAEA) project (RLA /1/010) ‘Improvement
of the management of contamination of surface water
bodies contaminated with heavy metals’. As a comple-
mentary project, a bilateral Argentine-Slovenian agree-
ment (SLO/08/12) was established in order to analyze the
data provided by the water quality sampling plan. Sup-
port has also been received from ANPCyT project PIC07
01216 “Movilización de Contaminantes en Sistemas
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