Reconstructing Early Industrial Contributions to Legacy Trace Metal Contamination in Southwestern Pennsylvania
Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
The remobilization of legacy contamination stored in floodplain sediments remains a threat to ecosystem and human health, particularly with potential changes in global precipitation patterns and flooding regimes. Vehicular and industrial emissions are often the dominant, recognized source of anthropogenic trace metal loadings to ecosystems today. However, loadings from early industrial activities are poorly characterized and potential sources of trace metal inputs. While potential trace metal contamination from these activities is recognized (e.g., the historical use of lead arsenate as a pesticide), the magnitude and distribution of legacy contamination is often unknown. This presentation reconstructs a lake sediment record of trace metal inputs from an oxbow lake in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Sediment cores were analyzed for major and trace metal chemistry, carbon to nitrogen ratios, bulk density, and magnetic susceptibility. Sediment trace metal chemistry in this approximately 250 year record (180 cm) record changes in land use and industry both in the 19th century and the 20th century. Of particular interest is early 19th century loadings of arsenic and calcium to the lake, likely attributable to pesticides and lime used in tanning processes near the lake. After this period of tanning dominated inputs, sediment barium concentrations rise, likely reflecting the onset of coal mining operations and resulting discharge of acid mine drainage to surface waters. In the 20th century portion of our record (70 -20 cm), patterns in sediment zinc, cadmium, and lead concentrations are dominated by the opening and closing of the nearby Donora Zinc Works and the American Steel & Wire Works, infamous facilities in the history of air quality regulation. The most recent sediment chemistry records periods include the enactment of air pollution legislation (~ 35 cm), and the phase out of tetraethyl leaded gasoline (~30 cm). Our study documents the impact of early industry in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, as well as early industrial coal production/consumption on legacy trace metal contamination. This record suggests that some early industrial processes can rival more recent metal fluxes and should be carefully considered in modern assessments of legacy sediment metal contamination.