In many catchments, anthropogenic input of contaminants, and in particular phosphorus (P), into surface water is a mixture of agricultural and sewage runoff. Knowledge about the relative contribution from each of these sources is vital for mitigation of major environmental problems such as eutrophication. In this study, we investigated whether the distribution of trace elements in surface waters can be used to trace the contamination source. Water from three groups of streams was investigated: streams influenced only by agricultural runoff, streams influenced mainly by sewage runoff, and reference streams. Samples were collected at different flow regimes and times of year and analyzed for 62 elements using ICP-MS. Our results show that there are significant differences between the anthropogenic sources affecting the streams in terms of total element composition and individual elements, indicating that the method has the potential to trace anthropogenic impact on surface waters. The elements that show significant differences between sources are strontium (p < 0.001), calcium (p < 0.004), potassium (p < 0.001), magnesium (p < 0.001), boron (p < 0.001), rhodium (p = 0.001), and barium (p < 0.001). According to this study, barium shows the greatest potential as a tracer for an individual source of anthropogenic input to surface waters. We observed a strong relationship between barium and total P in the investigated samples (R-2 = 0.78), which could potentially be used to apportion anthropogenic sources of P and thereby facilitate targeting of mitigation practices.
2012. Vol. 41, no 1, 208-216 p.