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A mineralogical and chemical investigation of road dust in Philadelphia, PA, USA

Abstract

Road dust was investigated within Philadelphia, a major United States city with a long history of industrial activities, in order to determine pollution levels. Almost all of the investigated minor elements were enriched relative to the continental crust. Furthermore, mean concentrations of Cr, Co, Cu, and Pb were high compared with those reported in cities in other countries. Lead pollution should be investigated further in Philadelphia, where 8 of the 30 sample sites, including those heavily trafficked by civilians, were at or above the EPA’s child safety threshold for Pb in bare soil. High Spearman correlations between Zn and Cu, Zn and Cr, Cu and Cr, and Sn and V, as well as factor analysis of minor elements suggests that the primary sources of these elements were anthropogenic. Potential sources included the breakdown of alloys, non-exhaust traffic emissions, paint, smelting, and industry. We found that higher organic content in road dust may be related to higher traffic densities, which could be due to tire-wear particles. Additionally, higher mean concentrations of Fe, Cr, Cu, and Zn were found at sites with elevated traffic densities. Land use impacted some of the elements not influenced by traffic density, including Co, Sn, and Pb. Bulk mineral content was similar across different land uses and traffic densities and, thus, did not appear to be influenced by these factors. Our research emphasized the complexity of road dust and utilized a more comprehensive approach than many previous studies. This study established fundamental groundwork for future risk assessment in Philadelphia, as it identified several key pollutants in the city. Overall, this assessment serves as an informative reference point for other formerly heavily industrialized cities in the USA and abroad.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Sarah Haber for assistance with sample collection and preparation; Kieran Dunne and Erynn Johnson for assistance with editing; and finally, we deeply thank our reviewers and the editor for their assistance with the improvement of the manuscript.

Funding

We thank the Benjamin Franklin Fellowship, Teece Fellowship, GAPSA Travel Grant Award, and the Greg and Susan Walker Foundation for support from the University of Pennsylvania. It was further supported by grant P30-ES013508 awarded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The findings are not the official opinions of NIEHS or NIH. We also thank the DUST 2018 student travel grant for support.

Author information

Conceptualization, Michael J. O’Shea, David R. Vann, Wei-Ting Hwang, and Reto Gieré; Methodology, Michael J. O’Shea, David R. Vann, Wei-Ting Hwang, and Reto Gieré; Formal analysis and investigation, Michael J. O’Shea and David R. Vann; Writing – original draft preparation, Michael J. O’Shea; Writing – review and editing, David R. Vann, Wei-Ting Hwang, and Reto Gieré; Funding acquisition, Michael J. O’Shea and Reto Gieré; Resources, David R. Vann and Reto Gieré; Supervision, David R. Vann and Reto Gieré.

Correspondence to Michael J. O’Shea.

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O’Shea, M.J., Vann, D.R., Hwang, W. et al. A mineralogical and chemical investigation of road dust in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-06746-y

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Keywords

  • Heavy-metal pollution
  • Industrial legacy
  • Anthropogenic influence
  • Land use
  • Traffic