Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 1218-1226
doi:10.4236/jep.2011.29140 Published Online November 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza
abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks,
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
Alireza Safahieh, Fazel Abdolahpur Monikh*, Ahmad Savari, Abdolmajid Doraghi
Department of Marine Biology, Faculty of Marine Science, Marine Science and Technology University, Khorramshahr, Iran.
Email: *
Received June 21st, 2011; revised August 23rd, 2011; accepted September 28th, 2011.
Fish in estuaries, especially those live near petrochemical area, may be exposed to various kinds of contaminants such
as heavy metals. This study was to investigate the varia tions of heavy metals in Liza abu from the Musa estuary which
receives petrochemical wastes. Fish samples were obtained from five different creeks. The samples were dissected into
liver, gill and muscle, acid digested and their heavy metals level were analyzed. The results showed that the concentra-
tion of Cd, Co, Cu, Ni and Pb in muscle ranged 0.08-0.44, ND-1.63, 0.89 - 4.28, 0.48 - 2.73 and 0.5 - 2.50 (µg/g) re-
spectively. Their concentrations in liver were 0.44 - 2.03, 0.5 - 2.80, 5.05 - 36.22, 0.48 - 4.91 and 0.66 - 5.74 (µg/g)
respectively. The concentra tion of these metals in gill was 0.32 - 2.72, 0.29 - 1.10, 4.33 - 6.03, 4.61 - 17.52 and 2.64 -
21.41 (µg/g) respectively. Generally, the level of heavy metals in muscle tissue of Liza abu was lower than the general
Keywords: Wastewater, Khor-Jafari, Khor-Ghazale, Liver, Muscle
1. Introduction
Fish occupies a particular position in the aquatic con-
tamination studies, because it play significant roles in
establishing water equality guidelines and is considered
as a main part of human diet [1,2]. The nutritional bene-
fits of fish might be related to essential proteins, vitamin
and two kinds of potential healthful omega-3 polyun-
saturated fatty acids (PUFA); docosahexaenoic acid
(DHA, is found most abundantly in brain and retina) and
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, exists profusely in nervous
system) [3-5]. Nevertheless, fish is influenced by various
types of contaminants such as heavy metals, PAHs and
PCBs and subsequently could be changed into a main
source of contaminant uptake for human being. Indus-
tries, agriculture activities and transportation are poten-
tial sources of toxic contaminants in the marine envi-
ronment [6-8].
Heavy metals constitute a highlighted group of pollu-
tants in aquatic ecosystems because of their accumulative
behavior [9,10]. Since they are not biodegradable, they
could enter aquatic food chain [11,12] and consequently
accumulate in organisms positioned in various trophic
levels. This condition may also produce health problem
in people who consume contaminated seafood [13]. For
example, they may appear in threatening form for chil-
dren and women [14]. They cause neurological damages
[15], increase the risk of cancer and increase the risk of
abortion in pregnant woman [16]. The transferring of
heavy metals from mother to fetus through placenta is
another kind of threat rises from excess consumption of
heavy metals by human [16]. These harmful peculiarities
of heavy metals can turn fish consumption into an envi-
ronmental mishap. Physicochemical factors of seawater
(pH, salinity, temperature and suspended matters) [17],
as well as ecological and biological factors (weight, size,
age, sex, species and season) determine the accumulation
of metals in fish [18]. However, metal toxicity via con-
taminated fish is mainly dependent upon metal speciation
[19] quantity of consumed fishes and age of consumer
Musa Estuary, one of the largest estuaries in the Per-
sian Gulf, is located in the northwest of the Gulf. It has
subtropical climate with tow marked seasons including
winter and summer. This estuary consists of many bran-
ches and creeks, which each creek is locally called Khor.
Thus, it provides a suitable habitat for fish, shrimp and
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks, 1219
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
other economically important aquatic organisms. Mullet
fish is one of the most abundant fish species in Musa
Estuary, which is caught all over the year in the area.
Due to its low price, it constitutes a major part the local
people diet. Despite it particular position in people diet
the available data on heavy metal accumulation by this
species is scarce. Musa Estuary is also an industrialized
estuary, around which many small industries and the
biggest Iranian petrochemical complex has been deve-
loped, the risk of marine contamination by various con-
taminants such as heavy metals in this ecosystem is an
expected issue. Fish that grow in such area could be a
potential source of heavy metals intake for human con-
sumers especially when it is frequently consumed. The
objective of present study was in order to establish new
information about heavy metals level in L.abu as well as
determine potential risk for human consumers. The study
also provides useful data as a baseline for future moni-
toring studies concerning heavy metals contamination in
the area.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Sampling and Sample Preparation
Fish samples were collected from five different stations
Including, Khor-Ghazale, Khor-Ahmadi, Khor-Jafari,
Khor-Zangi and Khor-Ghanam (Figure 1) using gillnet
during September and February 2009. Ten individuals
with the same size (16 - 18 cm) of Mult, L. abu were
obtained from each Khor, transferred to the laboratory
using icebox and were kept frozen at –20˚C until dissec-
tion. Before analysis, the samples were thawed at room
temperature. Each sample was dissected for its muscle,
the entire liver and gill tissues. The tissues were oven
dried at 80˚C for 24 h. About 1 gram of dried tissues was
digested in concentrated nitric acid (65% Merck). The
remaining digested solution was made up to certain
volume with double distilled water and filtered through
0.42 µm paper filter.
2.2. Apparatus
A GBC (Savant AA, Australia) Flame Atomic Absorp-
tion Spectrometer was employed to determine Cd, Co,
Cu, Ni and Pb in samples. All the studied metals were
determined with air-acetylen flame. The operation condi-
tions are given in Table 1.
2.3. Reagents
All reagents used were of analytical grade. Concentrated
stock solution of 1000 mg/l (merck, Germany) of each
metal was diluted by double distilled water for instru-
ment calibration. All the glassware were soaked in 10%
nitric acid for 24 h and rinsed three times with double
distilled water before use. Standard reference material
(Dorm-2, muscle of Dogfish, National Research Council
of Canada) was used to check the analysis accuracy. The
result showed good agreement with the certified values.
The recovery values were; 107%, 103%, 94%, 112% and
98% for Cd, Co, Cu, Ni and Pb respectively. The blanks
were prepared in a similar manner without samples to
avoid samples contamination. The prepared blanks were
Figure 1. Location of the sampling stations.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks,
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
Table 1. The operation condition of the AAS.
Cd Co Cu Ni Pb
Wavelengh (nm) 228.8 240.7 324.7 232 217
Silt Width (nm) 0.05 0.2 0.5 0.2 1
Lamp Current (MA) 3 6 3 4 5
used to calibrate the instrument. They also routinely were
analyzed after every 10 analysis in order to auto zero of
the AAS.
2.4. Statistical Analysis
All data were tested for normal distribution with Shapiro-
wilk normality test. Significant differences between heavy
metals concentration in the samples of various stations
were determined using One-Way analysis of variance
(ANOVA) fallowed by Duncan post hoc test. Seasonal
differences in metal concentration were examined using
t_test. The level of significance was set at α= 0.05.
3. Results and Discussion
The concentration of Cd, Co, Cu, Ni and Pb (mean ±
standard error) in the liver tissue of L. abu is shown in
Table 2. The maximum concentration of Co (2.80 µg/g),
Cu (36.22 µg/g) and Ni (4.91 µg/g) were observed in the
liver tissue of fish from Khor-Jafari. The maximum con-
centration of Cd (2.03 µg/g) and Pb (5.74 µg/g) were
obtained in the fish from Khor-Ghanam and Khor-Zangi
respectively. The results of heavy metal analysis in the
muscle are presented in Table 3. The concentration of
Co in muscle tissue was below the detection limit in
summer. The highest concentration of Cd (0.35 µg/g)
and Pb (2.54 µg/g) were obtained in the muscle of fish
from Khor-Ghanam and Khor-Jafari respectively. The
highest concentration of Co (1.63 µg/g), Cu (4.28 µg/g)
and Ni (2.73 µg/g) were found in the muscle tissue be-
long to fish from Khor-Zangi. The concentration of
heavy metals detected in the gill samples has given in
Table 4. The highest concentration of Cd (2.72 µg/g) and
Co (1.10 µg/g) were noted in Khor-Jafari, while the
maximum of Cu (6.03 µg/g ), Ni (17.52 µg/g) and Pb
(21.41 µg/g) were detected in the gill tissue belong to
fish from Khor-Ahmadi, Khor-Ghazale and Khor-Zangi
3.1. Inter-Station Distribution of Heavy Metal
Khor-Jafari and Khor-Zangi originate from Musa Estu-
ary and are stretched along PETZONE (Petrochemical
Special Economic Zone) up to Mashahr and Sarbandar
cities. These creeks are used as municipal wastes recep-
tors. Moreover, they receive copious amount of petroche-
mical wastewater along their courses. Thus, the higher
level of accumulated metals in fish from Khor-Jafari and
Khor-Zangi could be related to anthropogenic activities
and effluent discharges into the mentioned Khors. The
proximity of Khor-Ghazale to oil terminal turns this area
into a waterway for oil tankers. Therefore, the enrich-
ment of heavy metals in this creek might reflect oil pol-
lution in the area. Khor-Ahmadi is located between
Khor-Jafari and Ghazale and consequently a great amount
of heavy metal may displace to this creek by movements
produced by waves and tidal current [21,22].
3.2. Differences of Metals Accumulation among
Heavy metals accumulate in muscle, liver and gills dis-
played significant variation among different seasons (p <
0.05). Significant seasonal differences for heavy metal
accumulation in the liver, gill and muscle are given in
Tables 2, 3 and 4 respectively. There was a clear sea-
sonal resemblance between concentration of Cd in the
liver, muscle and gill and concentration of Co, Cu and Ni
in the gills, except in the few cases. Generally the results
showed that the concentration of Co in the liver and gill,
Cu in the liver and muscle and Pb in the gills during
winter were higher than summer. On the other hand, Ni
concentration in the liver and muscle during summer was
significantly higher than winter in all Khors. Seasonal
variations observed in the metals concentration could be
attributed to the differences in local pollution, bioavail-
ability of metals (variations among physiochemical fac-
tors) and fish metabolism (growth cycle, reproduction
and feeding) [23-25]. In addition, some other indirect
activities such as energy demand activities, atmospheric
deposition and runoff inputting, that could lead to metal
contamination, are variable among seasons. The spawn-
ing period of L. abu takes place in winter (January and
February). During this period, the feeding habits of L.
abu might get altered [26]. This alteration in feeding
habits could be the reason of observed difference in metal
concentrations between the seasons [27].
Mullet fish is known as Phytoplanktivores (diatoms)
and detritus feeder [28]. Due to decrease of Phytoplank-
ton productivity during winter, the fish tends to leave
surface waters and goes down near the sediment and here
it mainly feeds on detritus. It is known that sediment is a
main sink of contaminants particularly heavy metals en-
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks, 1221
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
Table 2. Heavy metal concentration in the liver in summer and winter.
Location season Cd Co Cu Ni Pb
Winter 1.54 ± 0.32 1.15 ± 0.20* 12.41 ± 0.77* 1.70 ± 0.29 0.66 ± 0.09
Summer 1.74 ± 0.50 0.67 ± 0.20 8.34 ± 0.68 2.32 ± 0.31* 1.93 ± 0.38*
Winter 0.59 ± 0.03 0.89 ± 0.18* 12.84 ± 1.32* 1.65 ± 0.33 1.12 ± 0.27
Summer 1.81 ± 0.54* 0.56 ± 0.24 8.84 ± 0.46 2.48 ± 0.76* 2.07 ± 0.44*
Winter 0.98 ± 0.11 2.80 ± 0.68* 36.22 ± 9.54 0.48 ± 0.07 5.65 ± 0.50*
Summer 0.70 ± 0.24 0.91 ± 0.27 32.68 ± 5.27 4.91 ± 0.84* 3.44 ± 0.64
Winter 1 ± 0.07 2.79 ± 0.20* 15.32 ± 2.57 2.04 ± 0.52 5.74 ± 0.38*
Summer 0.84 ± 0.12 0.68 ± 0.25 19.04 ± 2.38 2.83 ± 0.39 3.62 ± 0.44
Winter 0.44 ± 0.02 0.50 ± 0.11 8.8 0± 0.40* 0.55 ± 0.20 1.49 ± 0.47
Summer 2.03 ± 0.55* 0.87 ± 0.09* 5.05 ± 1.15 3.71 ± 0.31* 1.94 ± 0.36*
* Shows significant difference between seasons.
Table 3. Heavy metal concentration in the muscle in summer and winter.
Location season Cd Co Cu Ni Pb
Winter 0.08 ± 0.03 1.28 ± 0.16 1.49 ± 0.17* 1 ± 0.36 0.50 ± 0.17
Summer 0.14 ± 0.05 ND 0.89 ± 0.10 2.14 ± 0.40* 1.55 ± 0.33*
Winter 0.44 ± 0.12 0.51 ± 0.25 2.66 ± 0.14* 0.48 ± 0.14 1.72 ± 0.63
Summer 0.21 ± 0.05 ND 1.18 ± 0.32 2.18 ± 0.30* 1.76 ± 0.27
Winter 0.24 ± 0.04 0.95 ± 0.35 3.97 ± 0.27* 0.71 ± 0.21 1.30 ± 0.31
Summer 0.20 ± 0.03 ND 1.73 ± 0.45 1.89 ± 0.27* 2.54 ± 0.49*
Winter 0.32 ± 0.06 1.63 ± 0.22 4.28 ± 0.35* 0.80 ± 0.21 2.50 ± 0.57
Summer 0.11 ± 0.02 ND 1.47 ± 0.08 2.73 ± 0.32* 1.74 ± 0.66
Winter 0.35 ± 0.05 0.38 ± 0.13 2.72 ± 0.37* 0.71 ± 0.21 0.70 ± 0.17
Summer 0.13 ± 0.02 ND 1.25 ± 0.19 1.36 ± 0.31* 1.18 ± 0.37*
ND = Not Detected. * Shows significant difference between seasons.
Table 4. Heavy metal concentration in the gill in summer and winter.
Location season Cd Co Cu Ni Pb
Winter 0.96 ± 0.24 1.05 ± 0.09 4.84 ± 0.24 13.59 ± 0.72 11.30 ± 0.85
Summer 1.02 ± 0.09 0.52 ± 0.04 5.1 ± 0.30 17.52 ± 1.02* 9.41 ± 0.93
Winter 1.1 ± 0.08 0.50 ± 0.04 6.03 ± 0.10 10.03 ± 0.99 4.69 ± 0.24
Summer 0.94 ± 0.05 0.47 ± 0.03 5.83 ± 0.14 13.10 ± 0.98 4 ± 0.41
Winter 2.72 ± 0.43 1.10 ± 0.10* 5.93 ± 0.14 10.08 ± 0.89 8.94 ± 0.31*
Summer 2.68 ± 0.37 0.53 ± 0.10 5.52 ± 0.13 13.21 ± 0.96 5.32 ± 0.81
Winter 1.14 ± 0.21 0.77 ± 0.06 4.92 ± 0.57 4.61 ± 1.02 21.41 ± 1.18*
Summer 1 ± 0.08 0.37 ± 0.05 5.04 ± 0.50 6.02 ± 0.84 17.31 ± 1.21
Winter 0.32 ± 0.08 0.40 ± 0.05 4.33 ± 0.20 4.84 ± 0.68 3.10 ± 0.24
Summer 0.43 ± 0.04 0.29 ± 0.04 4.38 ± 0.21 5.51 ± 0.87 2.64 ± 0.21
* Shows significant difference between seasons.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks,
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
tered aquatic ecosystem [29,30]. Therefore, concentra-
tion of some metals in the fish tissues may rise in winter
relative to summer.
3.3. Comparison between Tissues
Generally, metals concentration in the muscle tissue was
lower compared to liver and gills (Figure 2). Many au-
thors have reported that metal accumulation by liver and
gills occur in higher magnitude than muscle [31]. Metal
accumulation in each tissue considerably depends upon
the accumulation capacity of the tissue [32-34]. Liver is
well as a target organ for storage and detoxification of
the excess heavy metals uptaken by fish [35-37].
Gill is the main place for gas exchange in fish. In this
organ, because of the short distance between blood and
surrounding seawater, heavy metals ions may directly
taken up from the passing water [31]. On the hand, it is
also engaged in excretion of metals ion out of the body.
Thus, the marked concentration of metals found in this
tissue could be related to accumulative capacity of this
organ during its role in depuration and absorption of up-
taken heavy metals [9]. Another explains for finding high
concentration in gill, mucous excretion by this organ.
The excreted mucous has affinity to be bound with metal
ions. Therefore, even when heavy metals accumulation is
low in other tissues it is possible to find considerable
Figure 2. Heavy metals concentration in L. abu tissues; (a): Cd; (b): Co; (c): Cu; (d): Ni; (e): Pb.
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks, 1223
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
amount of metals in this part [38,39].
3.4. Comparison with Standard and Previous
Heavy metals concentration in various tissues of Mullet,
L. abu from the northwest Persian Gulf is compared with
some previous studies from other locations of the world
(Table 5). The concentration of Cd, Cu and Ni in muscle
of L. abu from Musa Estuary were higher than Solea
Elongate, Psettodes erumeei and Epinephelus coioides
from north Persian Gulf [40] and Dicentrarchus labrax,
Sparus aurata and Mugil cephalus from Tuzen Lagoon
[13]. However, the concentration of Cd and Pb in present
study was lower than those given for Liza ramada from
Rosario [41]. The concentration of Cd, Co and Cu in the
liver of Liza abu was higher than the species that studied
by Dural et al., (2007). On the other hand, the level of
Cu in the liver of L. abu from Ataturk was higher than L.
abu that was caught from Musa Estuary. The maximum
concentration of Cu, Ni and Pb in gills during this study
were higher than the results that reported by Dural et al.,
(2007) and similar to the results that reported by Karad-
ede et al., (2004) for Cu. The higher concentration of Ni
and Co in L. abu from the Persian Gulf may be attributed
to the strong oil pollution in the area.
Comparison of metals concentration in current study
with some available standards (Table 6) showed that Cd
concentration in the fish muscle of Khor-Ahmadi, Khor-
Table 5. Heavy metal concentration in fish tissues reported in literature (µg/g dw).
Tissues Location Species Cd Co Cu Ni Pb Reference
Muscle Musa Estuary Liza abu This study
Persian Gulf , northern Part Solea elongata 0.072 6.69 2.43 [40]
Persian Gulf , northern Part Psettodes erumeei 0.105 1.09 2.09 [40]
Persian Gulf northern Part Epinephelus c o io ides 0.111 1.56 2.32 [40]
Ataturk Dam Lake Liza abu* ND 1.36 ND [7]
Tuzla lagoon Dicentrarchus labrax0.08 0.26 0.40
Tuzla lagoon Sparus aurata 0.10 0.82 2.44
Tuzla lagoon Mugil cephalus 0.11 0.47 0.49
Rosario Liza ramada 0.9 1.6 3.7 [41]
Musa Estuary Liza abu This study
Ataturk Dam Lake Liza abu* ND 267.45 ND [7]
Tuzla lagoon Dicentrarchus labrax0.19 0.69 1.72
Tuzla lagoon Sparus aurata 0.19 2.63 1.87
Tuzla lagoon Mugil cephalus 0.21 4.77 2.12
Gill Musa Estuary Liza abu This study
Ataturk Dam Lake Liza abu* ND 6.27 ND [7]
Tuzla lagoon Dicentrarchus labrax1.12 1.10 3.71
Tuzla lagoon Sparus aurata 1.01 1.94 3.86
Tuzla lagoon Mugil cephalus 1.27 3.43 4.54
Concentration are in µg/g dry weight, except the cases are denoted with asterisk, which are in µg/g wet weight. ND = Not Detect.
Table 6. Heavy metal concentration in guide line.
Standard Cd Cu Pb References
FAO, (1983) 0.5 ( ppm ) 30 ( ppm ) 0.5 ( ppm ) [42]
Turkish Guidelinesa 0.1 ( µg/g ) 20 ( µg/g ) 1 ( µg/g ) [43]
Saudi Arabia 0.5 ( µg/g ) 2 ( µg/g ) [44]
ECb 0.05 ( µg/g ) 0.5 ( µg/g ) [44]
a Turkish Environmental Guidelines (1988). EC = European Communities.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Heavy Metals Concentration in Mullet Fish, Liza abu from Petrochemical Waste Receiving Creeks,
Musa Estuary (Persian Gulf)
Zangi and Khor-Ghanam during the summer were below
the permissible level of EC (Commission of the Euro-
pean Communities, 1997), on the other hand the men-
tioned concentration during the winter exceeded the EC
limits. In addition, Pb concentration of fish muscle from
Khor-Zangi during the winter and in Khor-Jafari during
the summer was in agreement with the limits prescribed
by both EC an FAO (1983).
4. Conclusions
Heavy metals accumulate in different tissues of mullet
fish with different magnitudes. Generally, metals accu-
mulation in muscle was lower than gills and liver. Lead
and nickel mainly accumulated in gills while the main
tissue for Cu and Co accumulation was liver. Fish caught
from stations closed to the PETZONE and Imam Port
was found to containing high level of metals in muscle,
liver and gills. The results provide new information on
the distribution of heavy metals in liver, gill and edible
tissues of Liza abu, and indicate that the levels of some
metals exceed the legal limit that designated by some
health organization. The major finding of this study de-
monstrated that seasons play significant role in metals
accumulation. Therefore, in some seasons human might
be at risk of metal contamination via fish consumption
but in other seasons the level of heavy metal in the fish
decreases below the dangerous limits.
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