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Contents and chemical forms of heavy metals in school and roadside topsoils and road-surface dust of Beijing

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The concentration of human activities in urban systems generally leads to urban environmental contamination. Beijing is one of ancient and biggest cities on the world. However, information is limited on Beijing’s soil contamination, especially for roadside and campus soils. Thus, the aims of this study were to investigate the contents and chemical forms of toxic heavy metals Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn in the road-surface dust, roadside soils, and school campus soils of Beijing. In addition, enrichment and spatial variation of these toxic heavy metals in the soils and dust were assessed.

Materials and methods

Topsoil samples were collected from the schools and roadside adjacent to main ring roads, and dust samples were collected from the surface of the main ring roads of Beijing. These samples were analyzed for total contents and chemical forms of Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Sc, Zn, Al, and Fe. Enrichment factors (EFs, relative to the background content) were calculated to evaluate the effect of human activities on the toxic heavy metals in soils.

Results and discussion

Heavy metal contents in the road dust ranged from 0.16 to 0.80, 52.2 to 180.7, 18.4 to 182.8, 11.9 to 47.4, 23.0 to 268.3, and 85.7 to 980.9 mg kg−1 for Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn, respectively. In the roadside soil and school soil, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn contents ranged from 0.13 to 0.42, 46.1 to 82.4, 22.7 to 71.6, 20.7 to 29.2, 23.2 to 180.7, and 64.5 to 217.3 mg kg−1, respectively. The average EF values of these metals were significantly higher in the dust than in the soils. In addition, the average EF values of Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn in the soils near second ring road were significantly higher than those near third, fourth, and fifth ring roads. Anthropogenic Cd, Pb, and Zn were mainly bound to the carbonates and soil organic matter, while anthropogenic Cu was mainly bound to oxides. The mobility and bioavailability of these metals in the urban soils of Beijing generally decreased in the following order: Cd > Zn > Pb > Cu > Ni > Cr; while in the dust, they decreased in the following order: Zn, Cu, and Cd > Pb > Ni > Cr.


Both EF and chemical forms documented that Cr and Ni in the soils and dust mainly originated from native sources, while Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn partially originated from anthropogenic sources. In overall, Beijing’s road dust was significantly contaminated by Cd and Cu and moderately contaminated by Cr, Pb, and Zn, while Beijing’s roadside soil and school soil were moderately contaminated by Cd and Pb. However, the maximal hazard quotients (HQs) for individual Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn and comprehensive hazard index (HI) of these metals in the dust and soil were less than 1, indicating that the heavy metals in the dust and soil generally do not pose potential health effects to children, sensitive population.

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This research work was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41171359) and Special Environmental Research Funds for Public Welfare (201109064, 201009046).

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Correspondence to Chunye Lin.

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Responsible editor: Jadwiga Gzyl

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Li, R., Cai, G., Wang, J. et al. Contents and chemical forms of heavy metals in school and roadside topsoils and road-surface dust of Beijing. J Soils Sediments 14, 1806–1817 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-014-0943-z

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  • Chemical form
  • Contamination
  • Dust
  • Heavy metal
  • Soil