Potentially toxic metals in ombrotrophic peat along a 400 km English-Scottish transect

E J Smith, S Hughes, A J Lawlor, S Lofts, B M Simon, P A Stevens, R T Stidson, E Tipping, C D Vincent
Environmental Pollution 2005, 136 (1): 11-8
Four samples of ombrotrophic peat were collected from each of 10 upland locations in a transect from the southern Pennines to the Highland Boundary Fault, a total distance of ca. 400 km. Bulk compositions and other properties were determined. Total contents of Al and heavy metals (Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb) were determined following digestion with hydrofluoric acid, and concentrations of metals extractable with dilute nitric acid were also measured. Supernatants obtained from aqueous extractions of the peat samples were analysed for pH, major cations and anions, dissolved organic carbon and dissolved metals, and concentrations of free metal ions (Al(3+), Ni(2+), etc.) were estimated by applying a chemical speciation model. Both total and HNO(3)-extractable metal concentrations varied along the transect, the highest values being found at locations close to industrial and former mining areas. The HNO(3)-extractable soil metal contents of Ni, Cu and Cd were appreciably lower than lowest-observed-effect-concentrations (LOEC) for toxicity towards microorganisms in acid, organic rich soils. However, the contents of Zn at two locations, and of Pb at five locations exceeded LOECs, suggesting that they may be exerting toxic effects in the peats. Soil solution concentrations of free heavy metal ions (Cu(2+), Zn(2+), Cd(2+), Pb(2+)) were substantially lower than LOECs for toxicity towards vascular plants, whereas concentrations of Al(3+) were near to toxic levels at two locations.

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