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

SEGH Events

SEGH 2015 31st International Conference


22 June 2015

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

  • Occurrence and hydrogeochemical characteristics of high-fluoride groundwater in Xiji County, southern part of Ningxia Province, China 2015-05-20


    High-F groundwater is widely distributed in Xiji County, which endangers the safety of drinking water. In order to evaluate the key factors controlling the origin and geochemical mechanisms of F enrichment in groundwater at Xiji County, one hundred and five groundwater samples and sixty-two sediment samples were collected. Fluoride concentration in the groundwater samples ranged from 0.2 to 3.01 mg/L (mean 1.13 mg/L), with 17 % exceeding the WHO drinking water guideline value of 1.5 mg/L and 48 % exceeding the Chinese drinking water guideline value of 1.0 mg/L. High-F groundwaters were characterized by hydrochemical types of Na–HCO3 and Na–SO4·Cl, which were found in Quaternary sediment aquifer and in Tertiary clastic aquifer, respectively. Conditions favorable for F enrichment in groundwater included weakly alkaline pH (7.2–8.9), low concentration of Ca2+, and high concentrations of HCO3 and Na+. Calcite and fluorite were the main minerals controlling F concentration in groundwaters. The hydrolysis of F-bearing minerals in aquifer sediments was the more important process for F release in Tertiary clastic aquifer, which was facilitated by long residence time of groundwater, in comparison with Quaternary sediment aquifer. Cation exchange would also play important roles, which removed Ca2+ and Mg2+ and led to more free mobility of F in groundwater and permitted dissolution of fluorite, especially in Tertiary clastic aquifer. However, evapotranspiration and competing adsorption of B and HCO3 were the more important processes for F enrichment in Quaternary groundwater. Groundwater in Lower Cretaceous aquifer had relatively low F concentration, which was considered to be the potential drinking water resource.

  • Impact of biochar produced from post-harvest residue on the adsorption behavior of diesel oil on loess soil 2015-05-17


    The primary objective of this study was to investigate the effect of biochar, produced from wheat residue at different temperatures, on the adsorption of diesel oil by loess soil. Kinetic and equilibrium data were processed to understand the adsorption mechanism of diesel by biochar-affected loess soil; dynamic and thermodynamic adsorption experiments were conducted to characterize this adsorption. The surface features and chemical structure of biochar, modified at varying pyrolytic temperatures, were investigated using surface scanning electron microscopy and Fourier transform infrared analysis. The kinetic data showed that the adsorption of diesel oil onto loess soil could be described by a pseudo-second-order kinetic model, with the rate-controlling step being intraparticle diffusion. However, in the presence of biochar, boundary layer control and intraparticle diffusion were both involved in the adsorption. Besides, the adsorption equilibrium data were well described by the Freundlich isothermal model. The saturated adsorption capacity weakened as temperature increased, suggesting a spontaneous exothermic process. Thermodynamic parameter analysis showed that adsorption was mainly a physical process and was enhanced by chemical adsorption. The adsorption capacity of loess soil for diesel oil was weakened with increasing pH. The biochar produced by pyrolytic wheat residue increased the adsorption behavior of petroleum pollutants in loess soil.

  • Bioaccessibility of heavy metals in soils cannot be predicted by a single model in two adjacent areas 2015-05-16


    The objective of this study was to examine whether a single model could be used to predict the bioaccessibility of heavy metals in soils in two adjacent areas and to determine the feasibility of using existing data sets of total metal concentrations and soil property parameters (e.g., pH, total organic carbon, and soil texture) when predicting heavy metal bioaccessibility. A total of 103 topsoil samples were collected from two adjacent areas (Baotou and Bayan Obo). A total of 76 samples were collected from Baotou, and 27 were collected from Bayan Obo. The total and bioaccessible concentrations of arsenic (As), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) were measured following complete composite acid digestion and a simple bioaccessibility extraction test. The average total concentrations of As, Cu, Pb, and Zn were 8.95, 27.53, 28.40, and 79.50 mg/kg, respectively, in Baotou and 18.12, 30.75, 38.09, and 87.62 mg/kg in Bayan Obo. Except for As, these values were similar in both areas. The average bioaccessible heavy metal concentrations (Bio-HMs) for each target HM were also similar. In Baotou, the average Bio-HM values for As, Cu, Pb, and Zn were 1.16, 3.76, 16.31, and 16.10 mg/kg, respectively, and 1.26, 2.51, 14.31, and 8.68 mg/kg in Bayan Obo. However, the relative bioaccessibilities for each HM in Baotou were greater than those in Bayan Obo, with mean values for Pb, Zn, Cu, and As of 57, 20, 17, and 12 %, respectively, in Baotou and 40, 11, 9, and 8 % in Bayan Obo. In both areas, prediction models were successfully created using heavy metal concentrations and soil physicochemical parameters; however, models of the same target element differed between the areas, which indicated that a common model for both sites does not exist. Bio-HMs were highly affected by soil properties, which were found to differ between the adjacent areas. In addition, soil properties with large variations played major roles in the predictive models. This study highlights the importance of incorporating physical and chemical parameters that vary greatly when building predictive models of heavy metal bioaccessibility in soil. A similarity in soil properties between areas might be a prerequisite for the creation of a common predictive model for soil Bio-HMs.