The analysis of the airborne particulate matter—PM—incorporated to plant leaves may be informative of the air pollution in the surroundings, allowing their use as biomonitoring tools. Regarding metals, their accumulation in leaves can be the result of both atmospheric incorporation of metallic PM on aboveground plant organs and root uptake of soluble metals. In this study, the use of Nerium oleander leaves as a biomonitoring tool for metallic airborne pollution has been assessed. The metal uptake in N. oleander was assessed as follows: (a) for radicular uptake by irrigation with airborne metals as Pb, Cd, Cr, Ni, As, Ce and Zn (alone and in mixture) and (b) for direct leave exposure to urban PM. Plants showed a high resistance against the toxicity of metals under both single and multiple metal exposures. Except for Zn, the low values of translocation and bioaccumulation factors confirmed the excluder behaviour of N. oleander with respect to the metals provided by the irrigation. For metal uptake from airborne pollution, young plants grown under controlled conditions were deployed during 42 days in locations of the city of Zaragoza (700,000 h, NE Spain), differing in their level of traffic density. Samples of PM2.5 particles and the leaves of N. oleander were simultaneously collected weekly. High correlations in Pb concentrations were found between leaves and PM2.5; in a lesser extent, correlations were also found for Fe, Zn and Ti. Scanning electron microscopy showed the capture of airborne pollution particles in the large and abundant substomatal chambers of N. oleander leaves. Altogether, results indicate that N. Oleander, as a metal resistant plant by metal exclusion, is a suitable candidate as a biomonitoring tool for airborne metal pollution in urban areas.
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This work has been supported by the regional Aragon Government (Consolidated Applied Research Group ref. E61 and the Research Project ref. PI067/09 of the Call for Research Funding 2009 of the Aragon Government) and by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (National Research Plan, ref. BFU2010-22053).
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