Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

  • Soils, Sec 3 • Remediation and Management of Contaminated or Degraded Lands • Research Article
  • Published:

Magnetic signature and source identification of heavy metal contamination in urban soils of steel industrial city, Northeast China

  • 538 Accesses

  • 6 Citations



Identifying the spatial distribution and degree of heavy metal contamination in the soils is required for urban environmental management. Magnetic measurement provides a rapid means of determining spatial distribution and degree of soil pollution and identifying various anthropogenic sources of heavy metals. The purpose of this study was to characterize the magnetic signature of heavy metal contamination and identify the sources of heavy metals in urban soils from steel industrial city.

Materials and methods

A total of 115 urban topsoils from Anshan city, Northeast China, were collected and determined for magnetic properties and heavy metal concentration. Magnetic susceptibility (χlf) and saturation isothermal remanent magnetization (SIRM) were determined as proxy for ferrimagnetic mineral concentration. Magnetic minerals were identified by using Curie temperature, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped with an energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer (EDS). The Pearson’ correlation and matrix cluster analyses were used to establish the relationship between magnetic parameters and heavy metal concentrations.

Results and discussion

Urban topsoils exhibit characteristic magnetic enhancement. The magnetic measurement in particle size fractions indicates that 50–2 μm fraction has the highest low-field magnetic susceptibility (χlf), while <2 μm has the highest frequency-dependent magnetic susceptibility (χfd) value. The soil χlf and SIRM values are significantly correlated with the contents of metals (Fe, Pb, Zn, Cu, and Cr) and Tomlinson pollution load index (PLI), which indicates that χlf and SIRM could be served as better indicators for the pollution of heavy metals in the urban topsoil. Spatial distribution maps of χlf, SIRM, and PLI indicate that the pollution hotspots tend to associate with the regions within and close to steel industrial zones. XRD and Curie temperature analyses indicate that the main magnetic minerals of urban topsoils are magnetite (Fe3O4), hematite (α-Fe2O3), and metallic iron. Magnetic minerals mostly occur in the pseudo-single-domain/multidomain (PSD/MD) grain size range, which is the dominant contributor to the magnetic enhancement of topsoils. SEM observation reveals that magnetic particles in soils exist in irregular-shaped particles and spherule. Results reveal that heavy metals from industrially derived and traffic emissions coexist with coarse-grained magnetic phases.


It is concluded that the magnetic measurement could be regarded as a proxy tool to detect the level of heavy metal pollution and identify the source of heavy metals in urban soils. Magnetic properties provide a fast and inexpensive method to map the spatial distribution of long-term pollution from steel industrial origin on region scale.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  1. Angulo E (1996) The Tomlinson pollution load index applied to heavy metal “Mussel-Watch” data: a useful index to assess coastal pollution. Sci Total Environ 187:19–56

  2. Bhattacharjee A, Mandal H, Roy M, Kusz J, Hofmeister W (2011) Microstructural and magnetic characterization of fly ash from Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant in West Bengal, India. J Mag Mag Mater 323:3007–3012

  3. Blaha U, Appel E, Stanjek H (2008) Determination of anthropogenic boundary depth in industrially polluted soil and semi-quantification of heavy metal loads using magnetic susceptibility. Environ Pollut 156:278–289

  4. Blundell A, Hannam JA, Dearing JA, Boyle JF (2009) Detecting atmospheric pollution in surface soils using magnetic measurements: a reappraisal using an England and Wales database. Environ Pollut 57:2878–2890

  5. Bućko MS, Magiera T, Johanson B, Petrovský E, Pesonen LJ (2011) Identification of magnetic particulates in road dust accumulated on roadside snow using magnetic, geochemical and micro-morphological analyses. Environ Pollut 159:1266–1276

  6. Catinon M, Ayrault S, Boudouma O, Bordier L, Agnello G, Reynaud S, Tissut M (2014) Isolation of technogenic magnetic particles. Sci Total Environ 475:39–47

  7. Chen HY, Teng YG, Lu SJ, Wang YY, Wang JS (2015) Contamination features and health risk of soil heavy metals in China. Sci Total Environ 512-513:143–153

  8. Dearing JA, Dann RJL, Hay K, Lees JA, Loveland PJ, Maher BA, O’Grady K (1996) Frequency-dependent susceptibility measurements of environmental materials. Geophys J Int 124:228–240

  9. Dunlop DJ, Özdemir O (1997) Rock magnetism, fundamentals and frontiers. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  10. Fabian K, Reimann C, McEnroe SA, Willemoes-Wissing B (2011) Magnetic properties of terrestrial moss (Hylocomium splendens) along a north-south profile crossing the city of Oslo, Norway. Sci Total Environ 409:2252–2260

  11. Goddu SR, Appel E, Jordanova D, Wehland F (2004) Magnetic properties of road dust from Visakhapatnam (India)-relationship to industrial pollution and road traffic. Phys Chem Earth 29:985–995

  12. Heller F, Strzyszcz Z, Magiera T (1998) Magnetic record of industrial pollution in forest soils of Upper Silesia, Poland. J Geophys Res 103:17747–17767

  13. Hower JC, Rathbone RF, Robertson JD, Peterson G, Trimble AS (1999) Petrology, mineralogy, and chemistry of magnetically-separated sized fly ash. Fuel 78:197–203

  14. Hu XF, Su Y, Ye R, Li XQ, Zhang GL (2007) Magnetic properties of the urban soils in Shanghai and their environmental implications. Catena 70:428–436

  15. Jiang Q, Hu XF, Li S, Li Y (2012) Difference in magnetic susceptibility of the topsoils and its environmental implication in Baoshan and Qingpu districts, Shanghai. Chin J Soi Sci 43:774-780 (in Chinese)

  16. Jones S, Richardson N, Bennett M, Hoon SR (2015) The application of magnetic measurements for the characterization of atmospheric particulate pollution within the airport environment. Sci Total Environ 502:385–390

  17. Kapicka A, Petrovsky E, Ustjak S, Machackova K (1999) Proxy mapping of fly-ash pollution of soils around a coal burning power plant: a case study in the Czech Republic. J Geochem Explor 66:291–297

  18. Kukier U, Ishak CF, Sumner ME, Miller W (2004) Composition and element solubility of magnetic and non-magnetic fly ash fractions. Environ Pollut 123:255–266

  19. Liu DX, Ma JH, Sun YL, Li YM (2016) Spatial distribution of soil magnetic susceptibility and correlation with heavy metal pollution in Kaifeng City, China. Catena 139:53–60

  20. Lu SG, Bai SQ (2006) Study on the correlation of magnetic properties and heavy metals content in urban soils of Hangzhou City, China. J Appl Geophys 60:1–12

  21. Lu SG, Bai SQ, Xue QF (2007) Magnetic properties as indicators of heavy metals pollution in urban topsoils: a case study from the city of Luoyang, China. Geophys J Int 171:568–580

  22. Lu SG, Wang HY, Guo JL (2011) Magnetic enhancement of urban roadside soils as a proxy of degree of pollution by traffic-related activities. Environ Earth Sci 64:1921–1929

  23. Luo XS, Yu S, Zhu YG, Li XD (2012) Trace metal contamination in urban soils of China. Sci Total Environ 421-422:17–30

  24. Ma MM, Hu SY, Lin H, Cao LW, Wang LS (2014) Magnetic responses to traffic related contamination recorded by backfills: a case study from Tongling City, China. J Appl Geophys 107:119–128

  25. Magiera T, Jablonska M, Strzyszcz Z, Rachwal M (2011) Morphological and mineralogical forms of technogenic magnetic particles in industrial dusts. Atmos Environ 45:4281–4290

  26. Magiera T, Parzentny H, Róg L, Chybiorz R, Wawer M (2015) Spatial variation of soil magnetic susceptibility in relation to different emission sources in southern Poland. Geoderma 255-256:94–103

  27. Maher BA (1986) Characterization of soils by mineral magnetic measurements. Phys Earth Planet Interiors 42:76–92

  28. Matzka J, Maher BA (1999) Magnetic biomonitoring of roadside tree leaves: identification of spatial and temporal variations in vehicle-derived particulates. Atmos Environ 33:4565–4569

  29. Petrovský E, Kapicka A, Jordanova N, Knab M, Hoffmann V (2000) Low-field magnetic susceptibility a proxy method of estimating increased pollution of different environmental systems. Environ Geol 39:312–318

  30. Qiao Q, Zhang C, Huang B, Piper JDA (2011) Evaluating the environment quality impacted of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Game: magnetic monitoring of street dust in Beijing Olympic Park. Geophys J Int 187:1222–1236

  31. Rachwal M, Magiera T, Wawer M (2015) Coke industry and steel metallurgy as the source of soil contamination by technogenic magnetic particles, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Chemosphere 138:863–873

  32. Rodríguez Martín JA, Arana CD, Ramos-Miras JJ, Gil C, Boluda R (2015) Impact of 70 years urban growth associated with heavy metal pollution. Environ Pollut 196:156–163

  33. Sagnotti L, Taddeucci J, Winkler A, Cavallo A (2009) Compositional, morphological, and hysteresis characterization of magnetic airborne particulate matter in Rome, Italy, Geochem Geophys Geosyst 10, Q08Z06, doi:10.1029/2009GC002563

  34. Sokol EV, Kalugin VM, Nigmatulina EN, Volkova NI, Frenkel AE, Maksimova NV (2002) Ferrospheres from fly ashes of Chelyabinsk coals: chemical composition, morphology and formation conditions. Fuel 81:867–876

  35. Soil Survey Staff (2010) Keys to soil taxonomy. USDA-NRCS US Government Printing Office, Washington

  36. Thompson R, Oldfield F (1986) Environmental magnetism. Allen and Uniwin, London

  37. Vuković G, Urošević MA, Goryainova Z, Pergal M, Škrivanj S, Samson R, Popović A (2015) Active moss biomonitoring for extensive screening of urban air pollution: magnetic and chemical analyses. Sci Total Environ 521-522:200–210

  38. Wang B, Xia DS, Yu Y, Jia J, Xu SJ (2014) Detection and differentiation of pollution in urban surface soils using magnetic properties in arid and semi-arid regions of northwestern China. Environ Pollut 184:335–346

  39. Wang XS, Qin Y (2005) Correlation between magnetic susceptibility and heavy metals in urban topsoil: a case study from the city of Xuzhou, China. Environ Geol 49:10–18

  40. Wang C, Oldfield F, Xia D, Chen F, Liu X, Zhang W (2012) Magnetic properties and correlation with heavy metals in urban street dust: a case study from the city of Lanzhou, China. Atmos Environ 46:289–298

  41. Wawer M, Magiera T, Ojha G, Appel E, Bućko MS, Kusza G (2015) Characteristics of current roadside pollution using test-monitoring plots. Sci Total Environ 505:795–804

  42. Xia DS, Wang B, Yu Y, Jia J, Nie Y, Wang X, Xu SJ (2014) Combination of magnetic parameters and heavy metals to discriminate soil-contamination sources in Yinchuan—a typical oasis city of Northwestern China. Sci Total Environ 485-496:83–92

  43. Xiao Q, Zong YT, Lu SG (2015) Assessment of heavy metal pollution and human health risk in urban soils of steel industrial city (Anshan), Liaoning, Northeast China. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 120:337–385

  44. Yang JP, Zhao YC, Zyryanov V, Zhang JY, Zheng CG (2014) Physical-chemical characteristics and elements enrichment of magnetospheres from coal fly ashes. Fuel 135:15–26

  45. Yang T, Liu QS, Chan L, Cao G (2007) Magnetic investigation of heavy metals contamination in urban topsoils around the East Lake, Wuhan, China. Geophys J Int 171:271–284

  46. Zhang CX, Qiao QQ, Piper JDA, Huang BC (2011b) Assessment of heavy metal pollution from a Fe-smelting plant in urban river sediments using environmental magnetic and geochemical methods. Environ Pollut 159:3057–3070

  47. Zhang W, Jiang H, Dong C, Yan Q, Yu L, Yu Y (2011a) Magnetic and geochemical characterization of iron pollution in subway dusts in Shanghai, China. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 12 . doi:10.1029/2011GC003524 Q06Z25

  48. Zheng Y, Zhang SH (2008) Magnetic properties of street dust and topsoil in Beijing and its environmental implications. Chin Sci Bull 53:408–417

  49. Zhu Z, Li Z, Bi X, Han Z, Yu G (2013) Response of magnetic properties to heavy metal pollution in dust from three industrial cities in China. J Hazard Mater 246-247:189–198

Download references


This work was funded by the National Nature Science Foundation of China (No. 41371236).

Author information

Correspondence to Shenggao Lu.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Rongliang Qiu

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zong, Y., Xiao, Q. & Lu, S. Magnetic signature and source identification of heavy metal contamination in urban soils of steel industrial city, Northeast China. J Soils Sediments 17, 190–203 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-016-1522-2

Download citation


  • Heavy metal
  • Magnetic minerals
  • Magnetic susceptibility
  • Pollution load index
  • Urban soil