Urban sediment particle size and pollutants in Southern Brazil

  • Cristiano PoletoEmail author
  • Edson C. Bortoluzzi
  • Susanne M. Charlesworth
  • Gustavo H. Merten


Background, aim and scope

Studies of particulate-associated pollutants, or PAPs, in urban areas have become necessary due to their potentially deleterious effects on the environment. However, it is not just the sediments themselves which are problematic but also their particle size composition, which has a great influence on their capacity to adsorb and transport pollutants. This paper presents the particle size distributions and concentrations of five metals (Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn) of urban sediments collected from paved streets and gully pots from 20 cities in southern Brazil. The cities have different characteristics and hence sources of PAPs associated with differing geologies, soil types and type of urbanisation. Studies of this nature enable elucidation of the relationship between diffuse sources such as streets and gully pots and the likelihood of PAPs to subsequently pollute the urban aquatic environment.

Materials and methods

Sediment samples were taken at random from paved streets and gully pots in 20 cities in Rio Grande do Sul state, southern Brazil by means of a portable vacuum cleaner to avoid loss of finer particles. The particle sizes of the samples were measured using a Cilas® 1180 laser particle analyzer, and the concentrations of five metals (Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn) were determined by wet acid digestion (HCl–HF–HClO4–HNO3) followed by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy on the <63-µm fraction.


It was found that in comparison to sediments collected from the streets, gully pot sediments were more heterogeneous in terms of particle size and also that sediment samples from the gully pots were predominantly coarser than those originating on the streets. From the gully pot results, analysis of the modal particle diameter enabled the cities to be divided into three categories. The concentrations of metals in the street sediments were similar across all 20 cities, with all concentrations above background values.


The fact that concentrations of metals in the street sediments were above statutory guideline values and that the coarser material was deposited in the gully pots suggests that the finer, more polluted sediment is not retained in the gully pots but is transported to the nearest local receiving watercourse. This finding has implications for management strategies for reducing pollution in urban environments.


High concentrations of Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn in the <63-µm fraction of street sediments, in combination with coarse material retained in the gully pots, indicate that metals could be transferred quite rapidly from the diffuse source of pollutants, on impermeable street surfaces, to receiving watercourses.

Recommendations and perspectives

Studies of urban sediment particle size and geochemistry enable predictions to be made of sediment behaviour in urban environments. This will inform management strategies such as the possibility of including sustainable urban drainage systems in future management plans, in which it is useful to know how efficient the drainage system is from the point of view of sediment deposition in the urban aquatic environment and the potential for pollution of receiving waters.


Metals Particle size Sustainable drainage (SUDS) Urban sediments Urban watershed 



This study was supported by CAPES, CNPq and USGS.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristiano Poleto
    • 1
    Email author
  • Edson C. Bortoluzzi
    • 2
  • Susanne M. Charlesworth
    • 3
  • Gustavo H. Merten
    • 1
  1. 1.Hydraulic Research Institute—IPHFederal University of Rio Grande do Sul—UFRGSPorto AlegreBrazil
  2. 2.University of Passo Fundo—UPFPasso FundoBrazil
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Environment and Disaster ManagementCoventry UniversityCoventryUK

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