Assessing heavy metal sources in agricultural soils of an European Mediterranean area by multivariate analysis

C Micó, L Recatalá, M Peris, J Sánchez
Chemosphere 2006, 65 (5): 863-72
According to the European Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, the characterization of the content and source of heavy metals in soils are necessary to establish quality standards on a regional level that allow the detection of sampling sites affected by pollution. In relation to this, the surface horizons of 54 agricultural soils under vegetable crops in the Alicante province (Spain), a representative area of the European Mediterranean region, were sampled to determine the content of Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb and Zn. Analytical determinations were performed by atomic absorption spectroscopy after microwave sample digestion in acid solution. Results indicated that heavy metal levels were similar to those reported by authors working on agricultural soils from other parts of the Mediterranean region, with the exception of Cu and Pb in some samples. Multivariate analysis (principal component analysis and cluster analysis) was performed to identify a common source for heavy metals. Moreover, soil properties were determined in order to characterize agricultural soils and to analyze relationships between heavy metal contents and soil properties. The content of Co, Cr, Fe, Mn, Ni and Zn were associated with parent rocks and corresponded to the first principal component called the lithogenic component. A significant correlation was found between lithogenic metals and some soil properties such as soil organic matter, clay content, and carbonates, indicating an important interaction among them. On the other hand, elements such as Cd, Cu and Pb were related to anthropic activities and comprised the second (Cu and Pb) and third principal components (Cd), designated the anthropogenic components. Generally, Cd, Cu and Pb showed a lower correlation with soil properties due to the fact that they remain in available forms in these agricultural soils. Taking into account these results and other achieved in other parts of the European Mediterranean region, it can be concluded that soil quality standards are highly needed to declare soils affected by human induced pollution. This is particularly relevant for anthropogenic metals (Cd, Cu and Pb, and in some areas also Zn). Further research in other agricultural areas of the region would improve the basis for proposing such soil quality standards.

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