Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 186, Issue 1–4, pp 263–271 | Cite as

Highly Organic Soils as “Witnesses” of Anthropogenic Pb, Cu, Zn, and 137Cs Inputs During Centuries

  • C. ZacconeEmail author
  • C. Cocozza
  • A. K. Cheburkin
  • W. Shotyk
  • T. M. Miano


Highly organic soils, and in particular ombrotrophic bogs, have been often used to reconstruct climate changes and heavy metal contaminations. Ombrotrophic peat bogs, in fact, are domed peatlands in which the surface layers are hydrologically isolated from the influence of local groundwaters and surface waters, and are supplied only by atmospheric depositions. In the present work, the attention of Authors has been focused on Pb, Cu, and Zn, coming mainly from anthropogenic activities, and 137Cs, released mostly during the Chernobyl disaster. Practically, an undisturbed peat profile was cored in 2005 from a Swiss ombrotrophic bog and analysed using energy-dispersive miniprobe multielement analyzer X-ray fluorescence and Low Background γ-ray spectrometry in order to investigate and quantify the impact of human activities (e.g., industry, traffic, combustion of fossil fuels, “environmental disasters”) in causing Pb, Cu, Zn, and 137Cs contaminations during the centuries. Obtained data show that highly organic soils in general, and ombrotrophic bogs in particular, reflect the anthropogenic inputs in heavy metal and radionuclide contaminations. In fact, these environments allowed to follow the depositional history of Pb, Cu, and Zn, both underlining a general increasing of their production since the Industrial Revolution, and remarking past single impacting events such as the introduction of leaded gasoline and of particular agricultural practices. Further, although 137Cs showed a main peak corresponding to the Chernobyl disaster, confirming the role of bogs as archive of human activity, data revealed a certain mobility of this radionuclide along the profile. Thus, highly organic soils can be considered as both “witness” of the impact of human activity during centuries and indicator of the health of our planet.


Peat bogs Human activity Pb Cu Zn 137Cs 



Special thanks goes to Dr. G. Le Roux for providing useful suggestions. Thanks also to anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript.


  1. Adriano, D. C. (1986). Trace elements in the terrestrial environment. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Appleby, P. G., & Oldfield, F. (1978). The calculation of lead-210 dates assuming a constant rate of supply of unsupported 210Pb to the sediment. Catena, 5, 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barzi, F., Naidu, R., & McLaughlin, M. J. (1996). Contaminants and Australian soil environment. In R. Naidu, R. S. Kookuna, D. P. Oliver, S. Rogers, & M. J. McLaughlin (Eds.), Contaminants and the soil environment in the Australasia–Pacific region: Proceedings of the First Australasia Pacific Conference (pp. 451–484). Boston: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  4. Besnard, E., Chenu, C., & Robert, M. (2001). Influence of organic amendments on copper distribution among particle-size and density fractions in Champagne vineyard soils. Environmental Pollution, 112, 329–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buffle, J. (1988). Complexation reactions in aquatic systems: An analytical approach. Chichester: Ellis Horwood.Google Scholar
  6. Cheburkin, A. K., & Shotyk, W. (1996). An energy-dispersive miniprobe multielement analyzer (EMMA) for direct analysis of Pb and other trace elements in peats. Fresenius’ Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 354, 688–691.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, X.-H., Gossett, T., & Thevenot, D. R. (1990). Batch copper ion binding and exchange properties of peat. Water Research, 24, 1463–1471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clymo, R. S. (1983). Peat. In A. J. P. Gore (Ed) Mires: Swamp, bog, fen and moor, ecosystems of the world, 4A (pp. 159–224). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  9. Cocozza, C., D’Orazio, V., Miano, T. M., & Shotyk, W. (2003). Characterization of solid and aqueous phases of a peat bog profile using molecular fluorescence spectroscopy, ESR and FT-IR, and comparison with physical properties. Organic Geochemistry, 34, 49–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coggins, A. M., Jennings, S. G., & Ebinghaus, R. (2006). Accumulation rates of the heavy metals lead, mercury and cadmium in ombrotrophic peatlands in the west of Ireland. Atmospheric Environment, 40, 260–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dau, J. H. C. (1823). Neues Handbuch uber den Torf. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichsche Buchhandlung.Google Scholar
  12. Gallagher, D., McGee, E. J., & Mitchell, P. I. (2001). A recent history of 14C, 137Cs, 210Pb, and 241Am accumulation at two Irish peat bog sites: an east versus west coast comparison. Radiocarbon, 43, 517–525.Google Scholar
  13. Givelet, N., Roos-Barraclough, F., & Shotyk, W. (2003). Predominant anthropogenic sources and rates of atmospheric mercury accumulation in southern Ontario recorded by peat cores from three bogs: comparison with natural “background” values (past 8000 years). Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 5, 935–949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Joray, M. (1942). L’Étange de la Gruyère, Jura bernois. Étude pollenanalytique et stratigraphique de la tourbière. In: Matériaux pour le Levé Géobotanique de la Suisse. 25. Berne: Hans Huber.Google Scholar
  15. MacKenzie, A. B., Farmer, J. G., & Sugden, C. L. (1997). Isotopic evidence of the relative retention and mobility of lead and radiocaesium in Scottish ombrotrophic peats. The Science of Total Environment, 203, 115–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. MacKenzie, A. B., Logan, E. M., Cook, G. T., & Pulford, I. D. (1998). A historical record of atmospheric depositional fluxes of contaminants in west-central Scotland derived from an ombrotrophic peat core. Science of the Total Environment, 222, 157–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mitchell, P. I., Schell, W. R., McGarry, A., Ryan, T. P., Sanchez-Cabena, J. A., & Vidal-Quadras, A. (1992). Studies of the vertical distributions of 134Cs, 137Cs, 238Pu, 239,240Pu, 241Am and 210Pb in ombrogenous mires at mid-latitudes. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 156, 361–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nriagu, J. O. (1985). Cupellation: The oldest quantitative chemical process. Journal of Chemical Education, 62, 668–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Nriagu, J. O. (1996). A history of global metal pollution. Science, 272, 223–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pheiffer Madsen, P. (1981). Peat bog records of atmospheric mercury deposition. Nature, 293, 127–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Shotyk, W., Blaser, P., Grünig, A., & Cheburkin, A. K. (2000). A new approach for quantifying cumulative, anthropogenic, atmospheric lead deposition using peat cores from bogs: Pb in eight Swiss peat bog profiles. Science of the Total Environment, 249, 281–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Shotyk, W., Cheburkin, A. K., Appleby, P. G., Fankhauser, A., & Kramers, J. D. (1996). Two thousand years of atmospheric arsenic, antimony, and lead deposition recorded in a peat bog profile, Jura Mountains, Switzerland. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 145, E1–E7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shotyk, W., & Le Roux, G. (2005). Biogeochemistry and cycling of lead. In A. Sigel, H. Sigel, & R. K. O. Sigel (Eds.), Biogeochemical cycles of the elements, vol. 43 of “metal ions in biological systems” (pp. 240–275). New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  24. Shotyk, W., Weiss, D., Appleby, P. G., Cheburkin, A. K., Frei, R., Gloor, M., et al. (1998). History of atmospheric lead deposition since 12,370 14C yr BP from a peat bog, Jura Mountains Switzerland. Science, 281, 1635–1640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Smith, J. C., Ferguson, T. L., & Carson, B. L. (1975). Metals in new and used petroleum products and by-products. Quantities, and consequences. In T. F. Yen (Ed.), The role of trace metals in petroleum (pp. 123–138). Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  26. Steinmann, P., & Shotyk, W. (1997). Chemical composition, pH and redox state of sulfur and iron in complete vertical porewater profiles from two Sphagnum peat bogs, Jura Mountains, Switzerland. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 61, 1143–1163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tiller, K. G., & Merry, R. H. (1981). Copper pollution of agricultural soils. In J. F. Loneragan, A. D. Robson, & R. D. Graham (Eds.), Proceedings of the Golden Jubilee International Symposium on Copper in Soils and Plants (pp. 119–137). Sydney: Academic.Google Scholar
  28. Vile, M. A., Novak, M. J. V., Brizova, E., Wieder, K. R., & Schell, W. R. (1995). Historical rates of atmospheric Pb deposition using 210Pb dated peat cores: corroboration, computation, and interpretation. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 79, 89–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wedepohl, K. H. (1995). The composition of the continental crust. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 59(7), 1217–1232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Weiss, D., Shotyk, W., Appleby, P. G., Cheburkin, A. K., & Kramers, J. D. (1999). Atmospheric Pb depositions since the Industrial Revolution recorded by five Swiss peat profile: enrichment factors, fluxes, isotopic composition, and sources. Environmental Science & Technology, 33, 1340–1352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wertime, T. A. (1973). The beginnings of metallurgy: A new look: Arguments over diffusion and independent invention ignore the complex metallurgic crafts leading to iron. Science, 182, 875–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Zaccone, C., Cocozza, C., Cheburkin, A. K., Shotyk, W., & Miano, T. M. (2007c). Residual enrichment and depletion of major and trace elements, and radionuclides in ombrotrophic raw peat and related humic acids. Geoderma (in press) doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2007.06.007.
  33. Zaccone, C., Cocozza, C., D’Orazio, V., Plaza, C., Cheburkin, A. K., & Miano, T. M. (2007a). Influence of extractant on quality and trace elements content of peat humic acids. Talanta (in press) doi: 10.1016/j.talanta.2007.04.052.
  34. Zaccone, C., Miano, T. M., & Shotyk, W. (2007b). Qualitative comparison between raw peat and related humic acids in an ombrotrophic bog profile. Organic Geochemistry, 38, 151–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Zaccone
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. Cocozza
    • 1
  • A. K. Cheburkin
    • 2
  • W. Shotyk
    • 2
  • T. M. Miano
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Biologia e Chimica Agro-Forestale ed AmbientaleUniversità degli Studi di BariBariItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental GeochemistryUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

Personalised recommendations