Impact of a smelter closedown on metal contents of wheat cultivated in the neighbourhood.Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2008 Mar; 15(2):162-9.ES
The contamination of soils by heavy metals engenders important environmental and sanitary problems in Northern France where a smelter has been located for more than one hundred of years. It has been one of the most important Pb production sites in Europe until its closedown in March 2003. Ore smelting process generated considerable atmospheric emissions of dust. Despite an active environmental strategy, these emissions were still significant in 2002 with up to 17 tonnes of Pb, 32 tonnes of Zn and 1 tonne of Cd. Over the years, the generated deposits have led to an important contamination of the surrounding soils. Previous studies have shown pollutant transfers to plants, which can induce a risk for human and animal health. The objective of this study was to evaluate the consequences of the smelter closedown on the Cd and Pb contents of wheat (grain and straw) cultivated in the area.
Paired topsoil and vegetable samples were taken at harvest time at various distances to the smelter. The sample sites were chosen in order to represent a large range of soil metal contamination. Sampling was realised on several wheat harvests between 1997 and 2003. 25 samples were collected before the smelter closedown and 15 after. All ears of about 1 m long of two rows were manually picked and threshed in the lab. Similarly, straw was harvested at the same time. Total metal contents in soil and wheat samples were quantified.
A negative correlation between metal concentrations in soil and the distance to the smelter was shown. The wheat grain and straw showed significant Cd and Pb contents. The straw had higher metal contents than the grain. During the smelter activity, the grain contents were up to 0.8 mg kg(-1) DM of Cd and 8 mg kg(-1) DM of Pb. For the straw, maximum contents were 5 mg kg(-1) DM of Cd and 114 mg kg(-1) DM of Pb. After the smelter closedown, we observed a very large decrease of Pb in the grain (82%) and in the straw (91%). A smaller decrease was observed for Cd in grain. Despite this improvement, 80% of the studied samples remained non-acceptable for human consumption, according to the European legislation values, due to a high Cd content.
Results highlighted a difference in metal accumulation in the plant organs as well as a difference in metal uptake. The approach pointed out the importance of atmospheric fallout in the wheat contamination pathways for Pb. The smelter closedown has lead to a decrease of the Pb content in wheat. It is interesting to relate this finding with the lead blood levels in children living close to the smelter.
Those results have confirmed the importance of dust fallout in the plant contamination pathways. Before the closedown, Pb measured in the plant was principally originating from the smelter dust emissions. It raised the question of the sanitary risks for humans and animals living in the surrounding a of the smelter.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES
In the literature, very few articles take the dust deposit as contamination pathways for crops into consideration. However, in highly contaminated sites, this pathway can be very important. Thus, it would be worthy studying the uptake of metal contaminants by plants through the foliar system.