Predicting potentially plant-available lead in contaminated residential sites

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Department of Biological Sciences


Lead (Pb)-based paints pose a serious health problem to people living in residential settings constructed prior to 1978. Children are at a greater risk to Pb exposure resulting from hand-to-mouth activity in Pb-contaminated residential soils. For soil Pb, the most environmentally friendly, potentially cheap, and visually unobtrusive in situ technology is phytoremediation. However, the limiting factor in a successful phytoremediation strategy is the availability of Pb for plant uptake. The purpose of this study was to establish a relationship between soil properties and the plant-available/exchangeable Pb fraction in the selected Pb-based paint-contaminated residential sites. We selected 20 such sites from two different locations (San Antonio, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland) with varying soil properties and total soil Pb concentrations ranging between 256 and 4,182 mg kg-1. Despite higher Pb levels in these soils that exceeds US EPA permissible limit of 400 mg kg -1, it is known that the plant-available Pb pools are significantly lower because of their sorption to soil components such as organic matter, Fe-Mn oxides, and clays, and their precipitation in the form of carbonates, hydroxides, and phosphates. Principal component analysis and hierarchical clustering showed that the potentially plant-available Pb fraction is controlled by soil pH in the case of acidic Baltimore soils, while soil organic matter plays a major role in alkaline San Antonio soils. Statistical models developed suggest that Pb is likely to be more available for plant uptake in Baltimore soils and a chelant-assisted phytoextraction strategy will be potentially necessary for San Antonio soils in mobilizing Pb from complexed pool to the plant-available pool. A thorough knowledge of site-specific factors is therefore essential in developing a suitable and successful phytoremediation model.

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© 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment