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Trace element contaminant uptake in phytocap vegetation and implications for koala habitat, Lismore, Australia


Phytocapping is increasingly regarded as an economical and environmentally sustainable post-closure landfill management strategy. During 2013, a phytocap comprised of koala habitat trees was established on a historic landfill site in Lismore as part of an Australian trial program (A-ACAP). This case study was conducted to determine trace element contamination of the Lismore phytocap soil and foliage, and identify risks to grazing koalas. Foliage of Eucalyptus tereticornis, a key koala food tree, and Acacia melanoxylon, a reference native species, were assessed at the phytocap and an uncontaminated reference site. Concentrations of Ag, As, Hg and Pb were significantly higher in foliage from the phytocap compared to that from the reference site (p < 0.0001df 7, 52). Mean trace element concentrations in phytocap E. tereticornis foliage were compliant with state and international standards for contaminants in food and animal feed (NSW State Government, 2010; WHO and FAO, 2015) and soil was compliant with national health-based investigation levels for contaminated sites (NEPC, 2011). However, contaminant distribution was not homogenous, and As and Pb concentrations exceeded guidelines in some soil and foliage samples. Based on available guidelines and weekly dietary intake calculations, risks to koala health posed by trace element contamination of phytocap foliage are currently low, though should be managed by continued monitoring as the vegetation matures.

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  1. Also known as evapotranspiration (ET) caps


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The authors acknowledge and thank the staff at Northern Rivers Waste, Dr. John Grant, Peter Bligh-Jones and Christian Jaehnichen for their assistance with field work and data handling.


Financial support was provided by Lismore City Council and the SCU Environmental Analysis Laboratory.

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Correspondence to Amanda Reichelt-Brushett.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Summer, K., Reichelt-Brushett, A. Trace element contaminant uptake in phytocap vegetation and implications for koala habitat, Lismore, Australia. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 24281–24292 (2018).

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