Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 5501–5513 | Cite as

Tracking long-distance atmospheric deposition of trace metal emissions from smelters in the upper Columbia River valley using Pb isotope analysis of lake sediments

  • Andrew Wright Child
  • Barry C. Moore
  • Jeffrey D. Vervoort
  • Marc W. Beutel
Research Article


Heavy metal discharge from mining and smelting operations into aquatic ecosystems can cause long-term biological and ecological impacts. The upper Columbia River is highly contaminated with heavy metal wastes from nearby smelting operations in Trail, British Columbia, Canada, and to a lesser extent, Northport (Le Roi smelter), Washington, USA. Airborne emissions from the Trail operations were historically and are currently transported by prevailing winds down the Columbia River canyon, where particulate metals can be deposited into lakes and watersheds. In lakes, sediment cores contain records of past environmental conditions, providing a timeline of fundamental chemical and biological relationships within aquatic ecosystems, including records of airborne metal depositions. We analyzed trace metal concentrations (Ni, Cd, Zn, As, Cu, Sb, Pb, Hg) and Pb isotope compositions of sediment cores from six remote eastern Washington lakes to assess potential sources of atmospheric heavy metal deposition. Sediment cores displayed evidence to support trace metal loading as a direct consequence of smelting operations in Trail. Smelter contamination was detected 144 km downwind of the Trail Smelter. Cd, Sb, Pb (p < 0.001), and to a lesser extent As and Hg (p < 0.05) concentrations were correlated with Pb isotope compositions, suggesting that the Trail operations were likely the main source for these trace metals.


Pb isotopes Smelter pollution Heavy metal deposition Paleolimnology Lake Sediment 



We thank Charles Knaack and Diane Wilford from the Radiogenic Isotope and Geochronology Laboratory for their help developing methods and aiding in the processing of our samples. Finally, we thank the anonymous reviewers who greatly improved this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11356_2017_914_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (36 kb)
Supplemental Table 1 (XLSX 36.2 kb)
11356_2017_914_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (78 kb)
Supplemental Table 2 (XLSX 77 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Wright Child
    • 1
    • 2
  • Barry C. Moore
    • 1
  • Jeffrey D. Vervoort
    • 1
  • Marc W. Beutel
    • 3
  1. 1.School of the EnvironmentWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Chemical and Materials EngineeringUniversity of IdahoCoeur d’AleneUSA
  3. 3.School of EngineeringUniversity of California–MercedMercedUSA

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