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

Investigation of mercury levels in soil around a municipal solid waste incinerator in Shenzhen, China


Within the management hierarchy of municipal solid waste (MSW), incineration with energy recovery is a desired and viable option often used in densely populated and economically developed cities. The gaseous and particulate mercury (Hg) emitted from MSW incinerators may accumulate in the soil entering via dry and wet deposition. To investigate the soil Hg level and estimate the effects of the local meteorological and topographical characteristics (e.g., winds and terrain) on the soil Hg distribution, two layers of soil samples around an MSW incinerator in Shenzhen, China were collected and analyzed. Results showed that the Hg levels ranged from 0.012 to 0.136 mg kg−1 and from 0.013 to 0.100 mg kg−1 in the surface and subsurface soils, respectively. Long-term exposure of the soil to atmospheric Hg from the MSW incinerator dominates the spatial pattern of soil Hg. The wind frequency directly affected Hg distribution but not decisively. Interestingly, the variations of Hg level with downwind distance away from the stack were highly consistent with the terrain profile (r 2: 0.412–0.748). The effects of winds and terrain on soil Hg distribution and their mechanisms are discussed and general Hg dispersion patterns for transport on terrain are further proposed.

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

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


  1. Aarne Vesilind P, Jeffrey Peirce J, Weiner RF (1994) Environmental engineering. Butterworth Heinemann, Woburn

  2. Amirbahman A, Reid AL, Haines TA, Kahl JS, Arnold C (2002) Association of methylmercury with dissolved humic acids. Environ Sci Technol 36(4):690–695

  3. Bache CA, Gutenmann WH, Rutzke M, Chu G, Elfving DC, Lisk DJ (1991) Concentrations of metals in grasses in the vicinity of a municipal refuse incinerator. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 20(4):538–542

  4. Bahlmann E, Ebinghaus R, Ruck W (2006) Development and application of a laboratory flux measurement system (LFMS) for the investigation of the kinetics of mercury emissions from soils. J Environ Manage 81(2):114–125

  5. Brandon NP, Francis PA, Jeffrey J, Kelsall GH, Yin Q (2001) Thermodynamics and electrochemical behaviour of Hg-S-Cl-H2O systems. J Electroanal Chem 497(1–2):18–32

  6. Brunner PH, Monch H (1986) The flux of metals through municipal solid-waste incinerators. Waste Manage Res 4(1):105–119

  7. Carpi A (1997) Mercury from combustion sources: a review of the chemical species emitted and their transport in the atmosphere. Water Air Soil Pollut 98(3–4):241–254

  8. Carpi A, Weinstein LH, Ditz DW (1994) Bioaccumulation of mercury by sphagnum moss near a municipal solid-waste incinerator. J Air Waste Manage 44(5):669–672

  9. Cheng JP, Yuan T, Wang WH, Jia JP, Lin XY, Qu LY, Ding ZH (2006) Mercury pollution in two typical areas in Guizhou province, China and its neurotoxic effects in the brains of rats fed with local polluted rice. Environ Geochem Health 28(6):499–507

  10. Clear R, Berman S (1994) Environmental and health-aspects of lighting—mercury. J Illum Eng Soc 23(2):138–152

  11. Deng P (2006) Shenzhen statistical yearbook. China Statistical Publishing House, Beijing

  12. Gillis AA, Miller DR (2000) Some local environmental effects on mercury emission and absorption at a soil surface. Sci Total Environ 260(1–3):191–200

  13. Gustin MS, Stamenkovic J (2005) Effect of watering and soil moisture on mercury emissions from soils. Biogeochemistry 76(2):215–232

  14. Hanna SR, Chang JS, Strimaitis DG (1990) Uncertainties in source emission rate estimates using dispersion models. Atmos Environ 24(12):2971–2980

  15. Hu CW, Chao MR, Wu KY, Chang-Chien GP, Lee WJ, Chang LW, Lee WS (2003) Characterization of multiple airborne particulate metals in the surroundings of a municipal waste incinerator in Taiwan. Atmos Environ 37(20):2845–2852

  16. Kaleri CJ (2000) Implementation issues: mercury transport & fate combustion risk assessments in region 6. US EPA, Region. http://www.epa.gov/earth1r6/6pd/rcra_c/pd-o/mercury2.pdf. Accessed December 2009

  17. Katul GG, Porporato A, Nathan R, Siqueira M, Soons MB, Poggi D, Horn HS, Levin SA (2005) Mechanistic analytical models for long-distance seed dispersal by wind. Am Nat 166(3):368–381

  18. Kinsey JS, Anscombe FR, Lindberg SE, Southworth GR (2004a) Characterization of the fugitive mercury emissions at a chlor-alkali plant: overall study design. Atmos Environ 38(4):633–641

  19. Kinsey JS, Swift J, Bursey J (2004b) Characterization of fugitive mercury emissions from the cell building at a US chlor-alkali plant. Atmos Environ 38(4):623–631

  20. Liu YS, Zhan ZY, Du F, Kong SF, Liu YS (2009) Indoor air concentrations of mercury species in incineration plants for municipal solid waste (MSW) and hospital waste (HW). Chemosphere 75(2):266–271

  21. Llobet JM, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL (2002) Spatial distribution and temporal variation of metals in the vicinity of a municipal solid waste incinerator after a modernization of the flue gas cleaning systems of the facility. Sci Total Environ 284(1–3):205–214

  22. Loppi S, Putorti E, Pirintsos SA, De Dominicis V (2000) Accumulation of heavy metals in epiphytic lichens near a municipal solid waste incinerator (Central Italy). Environ Monit Assess 61(3):361–371

  23. Martin DO (1976) Comment on “The change of concentration standard deviations with distance”. J Air Pollut Control Assoc 26:145–147

  24. Meneses M, Llobet JM, Granero S, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL (1999) Monitoring metals in the vicinity of a municipal waste incinerator: temporal variation in soils and vegetation. Sci Total Environ 226(2–3):157–164

  25. Meroney RN (1992) Dispersion in non-flat obstructed terrain and advanced modeling techniques. Plant Oper Program 11(1):6–11

  26. Muenhor D, Satayavivad J, Limpaseni W, Parkpian P, Delaune RD, Gambrell RP, Jugsujinda A (2009) Mercury contamination and potential impacts from municipal waste incinerator on Samui Island, Thailand. J Environ Sci Heal A 44(4):376–387

  27. Nadal M, Bocio A, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL (2005) Trends in the levels of metals in soils and vegetation samples collected near a hazardous waste incinerator. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 49(3):290–298

  28. National Bureau of Statistics of China (1996–2007) China statistical yearbook. China Statistical Publishing House, Beijing

  29. Pasquill F (1974) Atmospheric diffusion. Wiley, New York

  30. Pirrone N, Keeler GJ, Nriagu JO (1996) Regional differences in worldwide emissions of mercury to the atmosphere. Atmos Environ 30(17):2981–2987

  31. Primbs T, Wilson G, Schmedding D, Higginbotham C, Simonich SM (2008) Influence of Asian and Western United States agricultural areas and fires on the atmospheric transport of pesticides in the Western United States. Environ Sci Technol 42(17):6519–6525

  32. Reis MF, Sampaio C, Brantes A, Aniceto P, Melim M, Cardoso L, Gabriel C, Simao F, Miguel JP (2007) Human exposure to heavy metals in the vicinity of Portuguese solid waste incinerators—Part 1: biomonitoring of Pb, Cd and Hg in blood of the general population. Int J Hyg Environ Health 210(3–4):439–446

  33. Rimmer DL, Vizard CG, Pless-Mulloli T, Singleton I, Air VS, Keatinge ZAF (2006) Metal contamination of urban soils in the vicinity of a municipal waste incinerator: one source among many. Sci Total Environ 356(1–3):207–216

  34. Schilcher H, Trittler R (1997) Investigations on the evaluation of mercury residues in medicinal plants, plant drugs and plant drug preparations. 4. On hazardous contaminant contents in plant drugs and drug preparations. Pharm Ind 59(1):90–94

  35. Schuhmacher M, Meneses M, Granero S, Llobet JM, Domingo JL (1997) Trace element pollution of soils collected near a municipal solid waste incinerator: human health risk. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 59(6):861–867

  36. Semu E, Singh BR, Selmerolsen AR (1986) Mercury pollution of effluent, air, and soil near a battery factory in Tanzania. Water Air Soil Poll 27(1–2):141–146

  37. Semu E, Singh BR, Selmerolsen AR (1987) Adsorption of mercury-compounds by tropical soils. 2. Effect of soil-solution ratio, ionic-strength, pH, and organic-matter. Water Air Soil Poll 32(1–2):1–10

  38. Shaub WM (1993) Mercury emissions from MSW incinerators—an assessment of the current situation in the United-States and forecast of future emissions. Resour Conserv Recyl 9(1–2):31–59

  39. Sheet E (2004) National listing of fish advisories. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/advisories/factsheet.pdf. Accessed December 2009

  40. Slowey AJ, Rytuba JJ, Brown GE (2005) Speciation of mercury and mode of transport from placer gold mine tailings. Environ Sci Technol 39(6):1547–1554

  41. Southworth GR, Lindberg SE, Zhang H, Anscombe FR (2004) Fugitive mercury emissions from a chlor-alkali factory: sources and fluxes to the atmosphere. Atmos Environ 38(4):597–611

  42. Southworth GR, Lindberg SE, Bogle MA, Zhang H, Kuiken T, Price J, Reinhart D, Sfeir H (2005) Airborne emissions of mercury from municipal solid waste. II: potential losses of airborne mercury before landfill. J Air Waste Manage 55(7):870–877

  43. Stein ED, Cohen Y, Winer AM (1996) Environmental distribution and transformation of mercury compounds. Crit Rev Env Sci Tec 26(1):1–43

  44. Tao S, Deng B (1993) Content distribution pattern and pollution of mercury in soil from Shenzhen area. China Environ Sci 13(1):35–38 [in Chinese]

  45. United Nations Environment Programme Chemicals (2002) Global mercury assessment. Switzerland. http://www.chem.unep.ch/mercury/Report/Final%20report/final-assessment-report-25nov02.pdf. Accessed December 2009

  46. United States Environmental Protection Agency (1997) Mercury Study Report To Congress. EPA-452/R-97-005. http://www.epa.gov/hg/report.htm. Accessed December 2009

  47. Wang DY, Qing CL, Guo TY, Guo YJ (1997) Effects of humic acid on transport and transformation of mercury in soil-plant systems. Water Air Soil Pollut 95(1–4):35–43

  48. Wang DY, Shi XJ, Wei SQ (2003) Accumulation and transformation of atmospheric mercury in soil. Sci Total Environ 304(1–3):209–214

  49. Xin M, Gustin MS (2007) Gaseous elemental mercury exchange with low mercury containing soils: investigation of controlling factors. Appl Geochem 22(7):1451–1466

  50. Xin M, Gustin M, Johnson D (2007) Laboratory investigation of the potential for re-emission of atmospherically derived Hg from soils. Environ Sci Technol 41(14):4946–4951

  51. Yang XP, Wang LQ (2008) Spatial analysis and hazard assessment of mercury in soil around the coal-fired power plant: a case study from the city of Baoji, China. Environ Geol 53(7):1381–1388

  52. Zemba SG, Green LC, Crouch EAC, Lester RR (1996) Quantitative risk assessment of stack emissions from municipal waste combustors. J Hazard Mater 47(1–3):229–275

  53. Zhang H, Lindberg SE (1999) Processes influencing the emission of mercury from soils: a conceptual model. J Geophys Res Atmos 104(D17):21889–21896

  54. Zhang H, Lindberg SE, Marsik FJ, Keeler GJ (2001) Mercury air/surface exchange kinetics of background soils of the Tahquamenon River watershed in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Water Air Soil Poll 126(1–2):151–169

Download references


This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 20877002), and the “Shenzhen Double-Hundred Talents” program. Thanks the Shenzhen Environmental Monitoring Centre for assistance in instrument analysis. The authors are also grateful to Ying-Han Li for help on sampling and Prof. Eugene Leong for help on language improving.

Author information

Correspondence to Yang-Sheng Liu or Hui Zeng.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wang, J., Zhao, H., Zhong, X. et al. Investigation of mercury levels in soil around a municipal solid waste incinerator in Shenzhen, China. Environ Earth Sci 64, 1001–1010 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-011-0918-y

Download citation


  • Hg
  • Municipal solid waste
  • Incineration
  • Soil
  • Terrain