Anthropogenically influenced soil pollution of Potentially Toxic Elements (PTEs) and the many side effects it causes within ecological and biological settings is an increasingly investigated research topic as the importance of soil health/productivity continues to rise in the world’s current climate. Research has indicated that anthropogenic actions such as industrialisation, urbanisation and agricultural practices increase the concentrations of PTEs but also that PTEs from anthropogenic sources tend to be more mobile and therefore bioavailable than pedogenic and lithogenic sources (Basta et al., 2005). This study aims to answer whether cemetery practices can lead to anthropogenically influenced PTE enrichment/pollution, whether this could be attributed to the burial of heavy industry workers and if there are any ecological risks associated?
To answer these research questions, a total of 168 soil samples (≈15g) were collected from 3 cemeteries (Canwick Road Old Cemetery, Canwick Road New Cemetery and St. Swithins Cemetery) and Cow Paddle common land (to establish background values) within Lincoln, England. The samples were analysed using X-Ray fluorescence spectrometry, determining the elemental concentrations for the lithophile elements; Rb, Ti, Ba, Cr, Cs, V, Al, Fe, Mn and the chalcophile elements; Pb, Zn, As, Sn, Cu, Cd, Te, Sb. These elements were chosen due to the negative ecological effects they can exhibit in excessive concentrations and having bioaccumulating and cytotoxic traits. The data analysis methods used to help answer the research questions were Enrichment Factor (EF), Geoaccumulation Index (IGEO) and the Potential Ecological Risk Index (RI).
The evidence suggests that there is “moderate to severe” PTE enrichment levels seen across Canwick Road Old Cemetery and Canwick Road New Cemetery, St. Swithins however has enrichment levels within the range of natural variation determined by Hernandez et al. (2003). There is limited evidence suggesting that the enrichment can solely be attributed to the burial of heavy industry workers, the presence of elevated levels of Pb and Cr suggests that posthumous sources of PTEs also instigate a role. Results also indicate that there is generally “low to moderate” ecological risk across the cemeteries caused by the PTEs. However with subsoil ecological risk values being moderately bigger, the future risk posed at these sites could increase. Especially with change climate change altering the physiochemical soil properties and processes which could result in an increased level of dissolved and bioavailable PTEs within the environment (Grobelak and Kowalska 2020; Jarsjö et al. 2020).
This study has led to the suggestion that further research regarding the potential implementation of a normalising element into commonly used geochemical data analysis methods (Geoaccumulation Index and Pollution Load Index) to increase accuracy and account for grainsize distribution effects is needed.
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