Rapid transport of anthropogenic lead through soils in southeast Missouri

Panjai Prapaipong, Colin W. Enssle, Julie D. Morris, Everett L. Shock, Rachel E. Lindvall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


To investigate Pb transport and cycling, soils from the forest floor and cores from White Oaks (Quercus alba L.) were collected near a Pb smelter in SE Missouri at varying depths from the surface and varying distances. Lead concentrations in soil samples at the surface drop dramatically with distance from approximately 1500 mg/kg at less than 2 km from the smelter to around 100 mg/kg at localities greater than 2 km from the smelter. Lead contents in tree rings are below 0.5 mg/kg in samples dated prior to 1970, and rapidly increase in 1975-1990 samples. Isotopic compositions of soils and tree rings exhibit systematic variations of Pb isotopic compositions with depth and tree ring age. Distinguishable isotopic signatures for Pb sources allowed quantification of the contribution of smelter Pb to the soils. At depths where Pb concentrations decreased and approached constant values (10-25 cm, 10-30 mg/kg), 50-90%, 40-50% and 10-50% of the Pb could be derived from the smelter for the samples at locations less than 2, 2-4 and over 4 km from the smelter, respectively. The remaining portion was attributable to automobile emission and bedrock sources. Because the smelter operated from 1963 to 2003 and samples were collected in 1999, it is estimated that smelter Pb infiltrates at rates of ∼1 cm/yr (30 cm in 30 yr). At distances less than 1.5 km from the smelter, even though Pb concentrations become asymptotic at a depth of ∼30 cm, isotopic evidence suggests that Pb has migrated below this depth, presumably through exchange with naturally occurring Pb in the soil matrix. This implies that soils heavily polluted by Pb can exceed their Pb carrying capacity, which could have potential impacts on shallow groundwater systems and risk further exposure to human and ecological receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2156-2170
Number of pages15
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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