Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 16, Issue 11, pp 2622–2639 | Cite as

Roads as sources of heavy metals in urban areas. The Covões catchment experiment, Coimbra, Portugal

  • António J. D. FerreiraEmail author
  • Daniel Soares
  • Luís M. V. Serrano
  • Rory P. D. Walsh
  • Celia Dias-Ferreira
  • Carla S. S. Ferreira
Urban Soils and Sediments



This work studies the implications of different traffic patterns for heavy metal and solid pollution generation processes following rainfall events with contrasting antecedent meteorological conditions, at a periurban catchment. The aim is to provide information on the pollution processes and their potential environmental impacts for urban areas.

Materials and methods

Seven campaigns were performed covering winter, spring, and summer conditions, for rainfall events with different antecedent conditions. Four types of roads were monitored: low traffic, average traffic, heavy traffic with demanding driving situations (break and turning), and heavy traffic with high vehicle speed (motorway profile). Samples were taken at the beginning, middle and end of the events to measure within event variation in concentration. Analytical standard procedures were used to quantify pH, conductivity, turbidity, total solids, volatile solids, suspended solids, volatile suspended solids and heavy metals (Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn) in the total and dissolved forms (as to infer the particulate fraction), namely copper, zinc, cadmium and lead.

Results and discussion

The collected data show a direct relation among the number of vehicles and/or the driving manoeuvres performed by them and the amount of solids and heavy metals present in the wash out overland flow collected. An important fraction of the heavy metals is washed off in the particulate form, which represents an increased problem since the road overland flow is directed to green/brown areas and for the local aquatic ecosystems. Maximum copper values recorded exceed 0.6 mh L−1, zinc exceeds 5 mg L−1, lead 0.1 mg L−1 and cadmium 0.01 mg L−1. Values are higher after long dry spells and reduce concentration throughout the rainfall events.


An important part of the heavy metals (with relevance for zinc and lead) are washed off in the particulate form, pollutants are typically related to the amount of traffic, and especially to the existence of driving manoeuvres. The summer events show the highest values, due to the accumulation of pollutants during the long dry spells.


Heavy metals Road wash-off Storm events Suspended sediments Traffic intensity 



This work has been funded by the Portuguese National Funds through FCT – Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology under project UID/AMB/00681/2013, and the research project PTDC/AUR-URB/123089/2010 – FRURB - Managing Flood Risk in Urban areas in a global change context. C. Dias-Ferreira gratefully acknowledges Fundação para a Ciência e para a Tecnologia (FCT) for financial support (SFRH/BPD/100717/2014). We acknowledge Mr. António Ventura Ferreira and Mrs. Mª da Encarnação P.D. Ferreira for their logistical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • António J. D. Ferreira
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel Soares
    • 1
  • Luís M. V. Serrano
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rory P. D. Walsh
    • 4
  • Celia Dias-Ferreira
    • 1
  • Carla S. S. Ferreira
    • 1
  1. 1.CERNAS, Coimbra Polytechnic Agriculture SchoolPolytechnic Institute of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.School of Technology and Management, Polytechnic Institute of LeiriaLeiriaPortugal
  3. 3.ADAI, LAETA Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  4. 4.Department of GeographySwansea UniversitySwanseaUK

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