Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10


  1. Al-Momani IF (2009) Assessment of trace metal distribution and contamination in surface soils of Amman. Jordan Jordan J Chem 4:77–87

  2. Amato F, Pandolfi M, Escrig A, Querol X, Alastuey A, Pey J, Perez N, Hopke PK (2009) Quantifying road dust resuspension in urban environment by Multilinear Engine: A comparison with PMF2. Atmos Environ 43(17):2770–2780.

  3. Apeagyei E, Bank, M.S., Spengler JD (2011) Distribution of heavy metals in road dust along an urban-rural gradient in Massachusetts. Atmos Environ 45(13):2310–2323.

  4. Arslan H (2001) Heavy metals in street dust in Bursa. Turkey J Trace Microprobe Tech 9:439–445

  5. Ball DF (1964) Loss on ignition as an estimate of organic matter and organic carbon in non calcareous soils. J Soil Sci 15(1):84–92.

  6. Barceloux DG, Barceloux D (1999) Vanadium. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 37(2):265–278.

  7. Brown JS, Gordon T, Price O, Asgharian B (2013) Thoracic and respirable particle definitions for human health risk assessment. Part Fibre Toxicol 10:12

  8. Charlesworth S, Everett M, McCarthy R, Ordóñez A, de Miguel E (2003) A comparative study of heavy metal concentration and distribution in deposited street dusts in a large and a small urban area: Birmingham and Coventry, West Midlands. UK Environ Int 29(5):563–573.

  9. Chon HT, Kim KW, Kim JY (1995) Metal contamination of soils and dusts in Seoul metropolitan city. Korea Environ Geochem Health 17(3):139–146

  10. Christoforidis A, Stamatis N (2009) Heavy metal contamination in street dust and roadside soil along the major national road in Kavala’s region, Greece. Geoderma 151(3):257–263

  11. Council on Environmental Health (2016) Prevention of childhood lead toxicity. Pediatrics 138(1):1–15.

  12. De Miguel E, Llamas JF, Chacón E, Berg T, Larssen S, Røyset O, Vadset M (1997) Origin and patterns of distribution of trace elements in street dust: unleaded petrol and urban lead. Atmos Environ 31(17):2733–2740.

  13. Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commision (DVRPC). (2016) “Traffic Count Viewer”. Scale Not Given. “DVRPC Traffic Count Viewer”. October 2.

  14. Dietrich M, Huling J, Krekeler MPS (2018) Metal pollution investigation of Goldman Park. Middletown Ohio: evidence for steel and coal pollution in a high child use setting Sci Total Environ 618:1350–1362.

  15. Domingo JL (1989). Cobalt in the environment and its toxicological implications BT - Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology In G. W. Ware (Ed.) (pp. 105–132). New York: Springer New York.

  16. Duong TT, Lee BK (2011) Determining contamination level of heavy metals in road dust from busy traffic areas with different characteristics. J Environ Manag 92(3):554–562.

  17. Duzgoren-Aydin NS, Wong CSC, Aydin A, Song Z, You M, Li XD (2006) Heavy metal contamination and distribution in the urban environment of Guangzhou. SE China Environ Geochem Health 28:375–391

  18. Egodawatta P, Thomas E, Goonetilleke A (2009) Understanding the physical processes of pollutant build-up and wash-off on roof surfaces. Sci Total Environ 407:1834–1841.

  19. El Samrani AG, Lartiges BS, Ghanbaja J, Yvon J, Kohler A (2004) Trace element carriers in combined sewer during dry and wet weather: an electron microscope investigation. Water Res 38:2063–2076

  20. Esri. (2017) “Worldmap” [basemap]. 1:1,000. “World Street Map”. September 10.

  21. Faiz Y, Tufail M, Javed MT, Chaudhry M (2009) Road dust pollution of Cd, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn along Islamabad Expressway. Pakistan Microchem J 92:186–192.

  22. Ferreira-Baptista L, De Miguel E (2005) Geochemistry and risk assessment of street dust in Luanda, Angola: a tropical urban environment. Atmos Environ 39(25):4501–4512.

  23. Garg A, Landrigan PJ (2002) Children’s environmental health: new gains in science and policy. Ann Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 584:135–144

  24. Gieré R, Carelton LE, Lumpkin GR (2003) Micro- and nanochemistry of fly ash from a coal-fired power plant. Am Mineral 88(11-12):1853–1865.

  25. Graney JR, Halliday AN, Keeler GJ, Nriagu JO, Robbins JA, Norton SA (1995) Isotopic record of lead pollution in lake sediments from the Northeastern United States. Geochim Cosmochim Ac 59(9):1715–1728

  26. Grigoratos T, Martini G (2015) Brake wear particle emissions: a review. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22:2491–2504.

  27. Hu X, Zhang Y, Luo J, Wang T, Lian H, Ding Z (2011) Bioaccessibility and health risk of arsenic, mercury and other metals in urban street dusts from a mega-city, Nanjing. China Environ Pollut 159:1215–1221

  28. Huang S, Peng B, Yang Z, Chai L, Zhou L (2009) Chromium accumulation, microorganism population and enzyme activities in soils around chromium-containing slag heap of steel alloy factory. Trans Nonferrous Metals Soc China 19:241–248

  29. Hubbard C, Snyder R (1988) RIR - measurement and use in quantitative XRD. Powder Diffract 3(2):74–77.

  30. Kabadayi F, Cesur H (2010) Determination of Cu, Pb, Zn, Ni, Co, Cd, and Mn in road dusts of Samsun City. Environ Monit Assess 168:241–253

  31. Kastury F, Smith E, Juhasz AL, Gan J (2017) A critical review of approaches and limitations of inhalation bioavailability and bioaccessibility of metal(loid)s from ambient particulate matter or dust. Sci Total Environ 574:1054–1074.

  32. Keshavarzi B, Tazarvi Z, Rajabzadeh MA, Najmeddin A (2015) Chemical speciation, human health risk assessment and pollution level of selected heavy metals in urban street dust of Shiraz. Iran Atmos Environ 119:1–10.

  33. Khairy MA, Barakat AO, Mostafa AR, Wade TL (2011) Multielement determination by flame atomic absorption of road dust samples in Delta Region. Egypt Microchem J 97:234–242

  34. Kong S, Lu B, Bai Z, Zhao X, Chen L, Han B, Li Z, Ji Y, Xu Y, Liu Y, Jiang H (2011) Potential threat of heavy metals in re-suspended dusts on building surfaces in oilfield city. Atmos Environ 45:4192–4204

  35. Legalley E, Krekeler MPS (2013) A mineralogical and geochemical investigation of street sediment near a coal-fired power plant in Hamilton, Ohio: an example of complex pollution and cause for community health concerns. Environ Pollut 176:26–35.

  36. Li X, Poon C, Liu PS (2001) Heavy metal concentration of urban soils and street dusts in Hong Kong. Appl Geochem 16:1361–1368.

  37. Li Z, Feng X, Li G, Bi X, Zhu J, Qin H, Dai Z, Liu J, Li Q, Sun G (2013) Distributions, sources and pollution status of 17 trace metal/ metalloids in the street dust of a heavily industrialized city of central China. Environ Pollut 182:408–416.

  38. Li F, Zhang J, Huang J, Huang D, Yang J, Song Y, Zeng G (2016) Heavy metals in road dust from Xiandao District, Changsha City, China: characteristics, health risk assessment, and integrated source identification. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23(13):13100–13113.

  39. Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD, Danaei G, Shibuya K, Adair-Rohani H et al (2012) A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380(9859):2224–2260.

  40. Liu E, Yan T, Birch G, Zhu Y (2014) Pollution and health risk of potentially toxic metals in urban road dust in Nanjing, a mega-city of China. Sci Total Environ 476-477:522–531.

  41. Lough GC, Schauer JJ, Park JS, Shafer MM, DeMinter JT, Weinstein JP (2005) Emission of metals associated with motor vehicle roadways. Environ Sci Technol 39:826–836.

  42. Lu X, Wang L, Lei K, Huang J, Zhai Y (2009) Contamination assessment of copper, lead, zinc, manganese and nickel in street dust of Baoji, NW China. J Hazard Mater 161:1058–1062.

  43. Lu X, Wang L, Li LY, Lei K, Huang L, Kang D (2010) Multivariate statistical analysis of heavy metals in street dust of Baoji, NW China. J Hazard Mater 173:744–749

  44. Lusby G, Hall C, Reiners J (2015) Lead contamination of surface soils in Philadelphia from lead smelters and urbanization. Environ Justice 8(1):6–14.

  45. Manno E, Varrica D, Dongarrà G (2006) Metal distribution in road dust samples collected in an urban area close to a petrochemical plant at Gela. Sicily Atmos Environ 40(30):5929–5941.

  46. Matzka J, Maher BA (1999) Magnetic biomonitoring of roadside tree leaves: identification of spatial and temporal variations in vehicle derived particulates. Atmos Environ 33:4565–4569

  47. NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) (2010). Certificate of Analysis, Standard Reference Material 2710a Montana I Soil. Highly elevated trace element concentrations.

  48. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). (2019). Station Name: PA PHILADELPHIA INTL AP. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved August 16th

  49. Ordonez A, Loredo J, De Miguel E, Charlesworth SM (2003) Distribution of heavy metals in the street dusts and soils of an industrial city in northern Spain. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 44:160–170

  50. Padoan E, Romè C, Ajmone-Marsan F (2017) Bioaccessibility and size distribution of metals in road dust and roadside soils along a peri-urban transect. Sci Total Environ 601–602:89–98.

  51. Pant P, Harrison RM (2013) Estimation of the contribution of road traffic emissions to particulate matter concentrations from field measurements: a review. Atmos Environ 77:78–97.

  52. Paulachok GN (1991) Geohydrology and ground-water resources of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. United States Geol Surv Water-Supply Pap 2346:1–79

  53. Pennsylvania Geologic Survey. (2018) “Geologic Map”. 1:250,000. “Bedrock Geology of Pennsylvania”. January 23, 2018.

  54. Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group. (2017). Final Report and Recommendations. City of Philadelphia Reports, 1-20.

  55. Querol X, Moreno T, Karanasiou A, Reche C, Alastuey A, Viana M, Font O, Gil J, de Miguel E, Capdevila A (2012) Variability of levels and composition of PM10 and PM2.5 in the Barcelona metro system. Atmos Chem Phys 12:5055–5076.

  56. Rasmussen PE, Subramanian KS, Jessiman BJ (2001) A multi-element profile of house dust in relation to exterior dust and soils in the city of Ottawa. Canada Sci Total Environ 267(1–3):125–140.

  57. Robertson DJ, Taylor KG, Hoon SR (2003) Geochemical and mineral magnetic characterisation of urban sediment particulates, Manchester, UK. Appl Geochem 18(2):269–282.

  58. Ruderman, W., Laker, B., & Purcell, D. (2017). “In booming Philadelphia neighborhoods, lead-poisoned soil is resurfacing.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Media Network, Accessed 19 June 2017.

  59. Rudnick RL, Gao S (2003) Composition of the continental crust. Treatise Geochem 3:1–64.

  60. Schwar MJR, Moorcroft JS, Laxen DPH, Thompson M, Armorgie C (1988) Baseline metal-in-dust concentrations in Greater London. Sci Total Environ 68:25–43

  61. Scranton P (1989) Figured Tapestry: Production, markets, and power in Philadelphia textiles, 1885-1941. Cambrige University Press, New York Print

  62. Sedlazeck KP, Höllen D, Müller P, Mischitz R, Gieré R (2017) Mineralogical and geochemical characterization of a chromium contamination in an aquifer—a combined analytical and modeling approach. Appl Geochem 87:44–56.

  63. Select Greater Philadelphia Council. 2016. At the heart of good buisness Greater Philadelphia. The Chamber of Commer for Greater Philadelphia Report. 1-24.

  64. Shi G, Chen Z, Xu S, Zhang J, Wang L, Bi C, Teng J (2008) Potentially toxic metal contamination of urban soils and roadside dust in Shanghai. China Environ Pollut 156(2):251–260.

  65. Shi G, Chen Z, Bi C, Li Y, Teng J, Wang L, Xu S (2010) Comprehensive assessment of toxic metals in urban and suburban street deposited sediments (SDSs) in the biggest metropolitan area of China. Environ Pollut 158(3):694–703

  66. Shi G, Chen Z, Bi C, Wang L, Teng J, Li Y, Xu S (2011) A comparative study of health risk of potentially toxic metals in urban and suburban road dust in the most populated city of China. Atmos Environ 45:765–771.

  67. Smolders E, Degryse F (2002) Fate and effect of zinc from tire debris in soil. Environ Sci Technol 36(17):3706–3710.

  68. Sommer F, Dietze V, Baum A, Sauer J, Gilge S, Maschowski C, Gieré R (2018) Tire abrasion as a major source of microplastics in the environment. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 18(8):2014–2028

  69. Tanner PA, Ma HL, Yu PKN (2008) Fingerprinting metals in urban street dust of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Environ Sci Technol 42:7111–7117

  70. Thorpe A, Harrison RM (2008) Sources and properties of non-exhaust particulate matter from road traffic: a review. Sci Total Environ 400:270–282.

  71. Tokalıoğlu Ş, Kartal Ş (2006) Multivariate analysis of the data and speciation of heavy metals in street dust samples from the Organized Industrial District in Kayseri (Turkey). Atmos Environ 40:2797–2805

  72. United Nations. (2012). World Urbanization Prospects: the 2011 Revision. CD-ROM Edition.

  73. United Nations (2014), Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World urbanization prospects: the 2014 revision, highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/352).

  74. USEPA (1996) Method-3050B. Acid digestion of sediments, sludges, and soils, Washington

  75. Varrica D, Dongarrà G, Sabatino G, Monna F (2003) Inorganic geochemistry of roadway dust from the metropolitan area of Palermo. Italy Environ Geol 44(2):222–230.

  76. Vermillion B, Brugam R, Retzlaff W, Bala I (2005) The sedimentary record of environmental lead contamination at St. Louis, Missouri (USA) area smelters. J Paleolimnol 33(2):189–203

  77. Wang G, Oldfield F, Xia D, Chen F, Liu X, Zhang W (2012) Magnetic properties and correlation with heavy metals in urban street dust: A case study from the city of Lanzhou, China. Atmos Environ 46:289–298

  78. Wei B, Yang L (2010) A review of heavy metal contaminations in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils from China. Microchem J 94:99–107.

  79. Wei B, Jiang F, Li X, Mu S (2009) Spatial distribution and contamination assessment of heavy metals in urban road dusts from Urumqi, NW China. Microchem J 98:147–152.

  80. Wei X, Gao B, Wang P, Zhou H, Lu J (2015) Pollution characteristics and health risk assessment of heavy metals in street dusts from different functional areas in Beijing. China Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 112:186–192.

  81. Weiss J (1949) Wissahickon Schist At Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Bull Geo Soc Amer 60:1689–1726

  82. White K, Detherage T, Verellen M, Tully J, Krekeler MPS (2014) An investigation of lead chromate (crocoite-PbCrO4) and other inorganic pigments in aged traffic paint samples from Hamilton, Ohio: implications for lead in the environment. Environ Earth Sci 71(8):3517–3528.

  83. Yang T, Liu Q, Li H, Zeng Q, Chan L (2010) Anthropogenic magnetic particles and heavy metals in the road dust: magnetic identification and its implications. Atmos Environ 44:1175–1185

  84. Yongming H, Peixuan D, Junji C, Posmentier ES (2006) Multivariate analysis of heavy metal contamination in urban dusts of Xi’an, Central China. Sci Total Environ 355(1–3):176–186.

  85. Zhang XY, Lin FF, Wong MTF, Feng XL, Wang K (2009) Identification of soil heavy metal sources from anthropogenic activities and pollution assessment of Fuyang County. China Environ Monit Assess 154:439–449

  86. Zhang X, Yang L, Li Y, Li H, Wang W, Ye B (2012) Impacts of lead/zinc mining and smelting on the environment and human health in China. Environ Monit Assess 184(4):2261–2273.

  87. Zhao H, Li X (2013) Understanding the relationship between heavy metals in road-deposited sediments and washoff particles in urban stormwater using simulated rainfall. J Hazard Mater 246(247):267–276.

  88. Zhao N, Lu X, Chao S (2014) Level and contamination assessment of environmentally sensitive elements in smaller than 100 μm street dust particles from Xining, China. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 11:2536–2549

  89. Zhao H, Shao Y, Yin C, Jiang Y, Li X (2016) An index for estimating the potential metal pollution contribution to atmospheric particulate matter from road dust in Beijing. Sci Total Environ 550:167–175

  90. Zheng N, Liu J, Wang Q, Liang Z (2010) Health risk assessment of heavy metal exposure to street dust in the zinc smelting district. Northeast of China Sci Total Environ 408:726–733.

  91. Zhu W, Bian B, Li L (2008) Heavy metal contamination of road-deposited sediments in a medium size city of China. Environ Monit Assess 147:171–181

  92. Žibret G, Van Tonder D, Žibret L (2013) Metal content in street dust as a reflection of atmospheric dust emissions from coal power plants, metal smelters, and traffic. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20(7):4455–4468.

Download references


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.


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.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Responsible editor: Gerhard Lammel

Electronic supplementary material

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation


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