Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 27-36

First online:

A survey of Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Cr, As, and Se in earthworms and soil from diverse sites

  • W. Nelson BeyerAffiliated withPatuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Eugene J. CromartieAffiliated withPatuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Earthworms and soils were collected from 20 diverse sites in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and were analyzed for Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Cr, As, and Se. Correlation coefficients relating concentrations of the elements in earthworms to concentrations in soil were low (−0.20<r<+0.57). Species differences and ecological variables contributed to the variability in concentrations of these elements in earthworms. The maximum concentrations of Pb (2100 ppm), Zn (1600 ppm), Cd (23 ppm) and Se (7.6 ppm) detected in earthworms were in the range reported to be toxic to animals fed diets containing these elements; however, even in the absence of any environmental contamination, some species of earthworms may contain high concentrations of Pb, Zn, and Se. Earthworms of the genus Eisenoides, for example, were exceptional in their ability to concentrate Pb. When earthworms are used as indicators of environmental contamination, it is important to identify the species, to report the soil characteristics, and to collect similar earthworms from very similar but uncontaminated soil.