SEGH Articles

An historical reconstruction of atmospheric heavy metals deposition from a peat bog record on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary, Quebec

01 October 2013
Peat bogs were used to reconstruct the history of atmospheric heavy metal deposition along the St. Lawrence Valley. Results from one of the study sites were presented at the 29th SEGH held in July 2013, Toulouse.

Steve Pratte is currently a Ph.D. student at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM, Canada) and the National Polytechnical Institute of Toulouse (INPT, France). The research presented at the 29th SEGH Conference in Toulouse won the Hemphill prize for best poster presentation in July.  The research was carried out during his Master’s degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University in Montreal, under the supervision of Dr. Alfonso Mucci and Dr. Michelle Garneau.

Human activities, especially since the Industrial Revolution, have left a legacy of trace metal contamination that is potentially harmful for natural ecosystems and human health (e.g. As, Cd, Pb) and affected their geochemical cycles. Atmospheric metal pollution is recorded in different environmental archives such as lake and marine sediments, snow and ice and peat bogs. Among these archives, peat bogs have proven to be effective in reconstructing the history of atmospheric metal deposition throughout Europe, but few studies have been carried out in North America or in Quebec. Being an important natural wind corridor, oriented from south-west to north-east, the St. Lawrence Valley is affected by long-range transport of contaminants.

The present study focuses on the reconstruction of the history of atmospheric As, Cd, Ni, Pb and Zn deposition in surface cores (<100 cm) from three peat bogs along the St. Lawrence Valley (Fig.1). Core chronologies were established using 210Pb for the upper horizons and 14C dating for the deeper sections. Metal accumulation rates were computed from measured concentrations and core chronologies. Stable lead isotopes (204, 206, 207 and 208) were also analysed to distinguish natural and anthropogenic sources of Pb. Arsenic, cadmium, lead and stable lead isotopes results from one of the study sites (Baie bog) were presented at the 29th SEGH conference.

Metal accumulation rates (AR) and concentrations start increasing from the beginning to mid-19th century and increase more sharply from early 20th century. At the same time, Pb isotopic values diminish from 1850 AD probably from deposition of coal burning particle, and stabilise from the 1920’s likely due to contributions from leaded gasolines. Lead accumulations rates peak in 1951 AD, which is earlier than other studies undertaken in the region. Maximum Pb AR (24 mg m-2 yr-1) are in good agreement with other studies, while As and Cd AR are much lower than accumulation rates obtained in the southwestern part of the St. Lawrence Valley. This is likely explainable by the more remote location of the site which allow more particles to settle before reaching the site. This is also reflected in lead isotope values which fall closer to Canadian aerosols values, the site further away from the US Mid-west, receives proportionally more contributions from Canadian leaded gasolines. A sharp decrease in metal accumulation rates and concentrations from the mid-60’s and increase in Pb isotopic ratios from the mid-1970’s is observed, which reflect the phasing out of leaded gasoline and the implementation of other mitigation policies (i.e. Clean Air Act). However, values are still an order of magnitude higher than pre-industrial values and other less radiogenic sources of Pb must be invoked (likely coal consumption and smelting activities) to explain the recent decrease in isotopic values.

Study site locations

In short, the Baie bog recorded the main trends in industrial activities since the Industrial Revolution. The site receives more pollution from Canadian than US sources in reason of its greater distance from the main industrial and urban sources. Mitigation policies (phasing-out of leaded gasoline, Clean Air Act) have been effective in reducing metal emissions and deposition in the environment. Nevertheless, other sources than leaded gasolines are still contributing to Pb and other metal emissions.

Link to an article in Atmospheric Environment arising from this study.

Steve Pratte

Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM, Canada) and the National Polytechnical Institute of Toulouse (INPT, France).

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Effects of freshwater leaching on potential bioavailability of heavy metals in tidal flat soils 2015-03-07


    Leaching experiments were conducted to investigate the effects of desalination levels and sediment depths on potential bioavailability of heavy metal (Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn) in tidal flat soils. The data showed that both the desalination levels (p < 0.001) and soil depths (p < 0.001) had significant effects on the concentrations of acid-volatile sulfide (AVS). AVS concentrations generally exhibited increasing trends with an increase in depth and decreasing trends with enhanced desalination levels. The desalination levels had significant (p < 0.05) effects on the concentrations of simultaneously extracted metal (SEM; Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, and Zn). Moreover, the concentrations of SEM (Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, and Zn) generally tended to decrease with an increase in the desalination level. The desalination treatment significantly reduced the ratios of SEM/AVS compared with control. However, the ratios of SEM/AVS increased with enhanced desalination levels in treatments. Results reveal that low desalination treatment is better for reducing toxicity to benthic organisms than high desalination treatment. Since these reclaimed tidal flats with low desalinisation are suitable for saline water aquaculture, transforming the present land use of reclaimed tidal flats from fresh water aquaculture into saline water aquaculture may reduce health risk of heavy metals remained in sediments. These results will also contribute to our understanding of the dynamic behavior of heavy metals in the reclamation of tidal flats during leaching and the role of the ratio of SEM/AVS predictions on assessing the ecological risks of reclaimed tidal flats.

  • Urinary stones as a novel matrix for human biomonitoring of toxic and essential elements 2015-03-04


    Monitoring of body burden of toxic elements is usually based on analysis of concentration of particular elements in blood, urine and/or hair. Analysis of these matrices, however, predominantly reflects short- or medium-term exposure to trace elements or pollutants. In this work, urinary stones were investigated as a matrix for monitoring long-term exposure to toxic and essential elements. A total of 431 samples of urinary calculi were subjected to mineralogical and elemental analysis by infrared spectroscopy and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The effect of mineralogical composition of the stones and other parameters such as sex, age and geographical location on contents of trace and minor elements is presented. Our results demonstrate the applicability of such approach and confirm that the analysis of urinary calculi can be helpful in providing complementary information on human exposure to trace metals and their excretion. Analysis of whewellite stones (calcium oxalate monohydrate) with content of phosphorus <0.6 % has been proved to be a promising tool for biomonitoring of trace and minor elements.

  • A novel method of microwave heating mixed liquid-assisted regeneration of V 2 O 5 –WO 3 /TiO 2 commercial SCR catalysts 2015-03-03


    An experimental study on the regeneration of deactivated SCR catalysts was carried out using a microwave-assisted method containing three steps of washing with mixed liquid of ethanol and water, impregnating, and drying. After the regeneration treatment, NO conversion at 320 °C increased from 39 to 90 % and vanadium content increased by 62.2 %, which were much higher than those regenerated by the traditional method. The more impregnated vanadium was due to the fact that the rapid evaporation of mixed liquid inside the catalyst channels led to the enlargement of surface areas by creating more pores on the catalysts. Meanwhile, with the increasing concentrations of ethanol, the heating rate of the mixed liquid increased, and the volume after complete evaporation of the mixed liquid was gradually reduced. Since higher heating rate and lager volume after the liquid evaporation could help to create more pores, therefore, when the volume ratio of ethanol/mixed solution was 20 %, the catalyst obtained the maximum specific surface area, which significantly increased to ca. 123 % compared with the deactivated catalyst. In addition, the catalyst dried by microwave exhibited better catalytic activity than that dried in conventional oven. Therefore, this method showed great potential in industrial applications.