The impoundment of the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR) in China influences the quality of the water supply. Surface sediment samples from the TGR mainstream and three tributaries were collected. Acid volatile sulfide (AVS), simultaneously extractable metals (SEMs), and the fraction of organic carbon (f(oc)) were used to assess the toxicity of heavy metals. Sediment quality guidelines (SQGs) were established using the equilibrium partitioning approach. The results showed that the surface sediments were found to be oxic or suboxic. AVS concentrations in sediments were relatively low, below SEM concentrations. The [SEM] - [AVS] model indicated that all sediments possibly have adverse effects on aquatic life. However, ([SEM] - [AVS])/f(oc) predicted no adverse biological effects in some areas of the Meixi and Caotang Rivers, while adverse effects to aquatic life were uncertain for the other sediments. The partitioning coefficients, water quality criteria, and residual metals in the sediments were the main factors influencing the SQGs for the TGR, while the metals bound to AVS had a negligible effect. The normalized TGR SQGs were all much higher than the existing standards except for cadmium and copper. The differences might be attributed to the approaches used for derivation of SQGs and the physical and chemical characteristics of the sediments.
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