Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 19, Issue 10, pp 3545–3563 | Cite as

Enrichment of potentially toxic elements in the fine fraction of soils from Iraq and Kuwait

  • Joseph P. SmithEmail author
  • Daniel J. Brabander
  • Louis A. Panek
  • James R. Besancon
Soils, Sec 4 • Ecotoxicology • Research Article



The fine fraction of soils in arid and semi-arid regions can be readily suspended into the atmosphere by winds and transported long distances, carrying potentially toxic elements (PTEs) associated with these source materials. In this study, environmentally available PTE loadings for As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, V, and Zn were measured in the fine fraction (< 75 μm) of 19 bulk soil samples collected in 2007 from 4 sites in Iraq and 15 sites in Kuwait.

Materials and methods

Soil samples were mechanically sieved and particle size distribution in the fine fraction was measured using laser diffraction particle sizing. Major and minor element composition was determined in the soil fine fraction using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence. Sub-samples were digested using strong acids and analyzed using high-resolution inductively coupled mass spectrometry to assess the maximum environmental availability of PTEs in each fine fraction of each soil sample. Measured environmentally available PTE loadings were normalized to soluble iron to allow for an assessment of soil contamination at and between sites that included weathering effects and was more focused on the mobile fraction of the total PTE load. Physiologically based fluid extractions were also performed on select samples to assess potential bioavailability of PTEs through ingestion and inhalation.

Results and discussion

Results show significant PTE loadings and anthropogenic contamination in the fine fraction of soils from Iraq and Kuwait. All sites showed moderate-to-high Ni contamination but loadings and contamination levels for all PTEs varied among sites in Iraq and Kuwait as a function of weathering, local geology, and inputs from non-local and/or anthropogenic sources. PTE contamination tended to be higher in the fine fraction of soil collected at the sites in Iraq, and the lowest overall PTE loadings were found at sites in northern Kuwait where the mean measured particle diameter was largest. Potential bioavailability of PTEs via inhalation was generally low (< 10% of loading) but a significant portion of the PTE load for As, Cu, and Pb (and V and Zn at select sites) was available via ingestion.


The fine fraction of soils collected from Iraq and Kuwait in this study had significant environmentally available PTE contamination. Sites from Lower Mesopotamia in Iraq were the most impacted. PTE loadings and contamination were strongly influenced by local-scale weathering and geology, proximity to urban PTE sources, and inputs from non-local and/or anthropogenic sources. Sites with a smaller mean particle diameter had the greatest levels of PTE contamination. Potential bioavailability of PTEs was generally low.


Arid soils Clays Geochemistry Metals Potentially toxic elements 



Thanks are owed to many people including Richard B. Coffin, Lewis C. Millholland, Tomasz Leski, Baochuan Lin, Anthony Malanoski, and David Stenger currently or formerly at the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, USA (NRL Code 6114 and 6900); Katrin Monecke and Tempestt Morgan of Wellesley College; and Kathleen McCarthy of the Harvard University School of Public Health. Special thanks is owed to Michael J. Gregory (LCDR, USN, formerly of NRL 6114) for providing the soil samples for this study.

Funding information

This research was supported in part by the NRL (Codes 6114 and 6900) and the US Office of Naval Research.


  1. Abbaslou H, Martin F, Abtahi A, Moore F (2014) Trace element concentrations and background values in the arid soils of Hormozgan Province of southern Iran. Arch Agron Soil Sci 60(8):1125–1143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acosta JA, Martínez-Martínez S, Faz A, Arocena J (2011) Accumulations of major and trace elements in particle size fractions of soils on eight different parent materials. Geoderma 161(1–2):30–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adamo P, Agrelli D, Zampella M (2018) Chapter 9 - chemical speciation to assess bioavailability, bioaccessibility and geochemical forms of potentially toxic metals (PTMs) in polluted soils. In: De Vivo B, Belkin HE, Lima A (eds) Environmental geochemistry, 2nd edn. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 153–194Google Scholar
  4. Aelion CM, Davis HT, McDermott S, Lawson AB (2009) Soil metal concentrations and toxicity: associations with distances to industrial facilities and implications for human health. Sci Total Environ 407(7):2216–2223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Al-Awadhi JM (2005) Dust fallout characteristics in Kuwait: a case study. Kuwait J Sci Eng 32:135–151Google Scholar
  6. Al-Awadhi JM, Al-Shuaibi AA (2013) Dust fallout in Kuwait city: deposition and characterization. Sci Total Environ 461–462:139–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Al-Bassam KS, Yousif MA (2014) Geochemical distribution and background values of some minor and trace elements in Iraqi soils and recent sediments. Iraqi Bull Geol Mining 10(2):109–156Google Scholar
  8. Al-Bassam K, Al-Sa’adi N, Al-Nuaimi T, Al-Haza’a S (2004) Potassium mineral phases in samples of Iraqi soils. Iraqi J Sci 45:159–171Google Scholar
  9. Al-Dousari AM, Al-Awadhi J (2012) Dust fallout in northern Kuwait, major sources and characteristics. Kuwait J Sci 39:171–187Google Scholar
  10. Al-Dousari AM, Al-Awadhi J, Ahmed M (2013) Dust fallout characteristic within global dust storm major trajectories. Arab J Geosci 6:3877–3884CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Al-Jebouri MM, Al-Samarrai AH, Abdeljabar RA (2014) Estimation of environmental chemical pollution of Al-Baiji Oil Refinery in Iraq. Br J Appl Sci Technol 4(15):2223–2230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Al-Nuaimi T, Al-Bassam K, Al-Haza'a S, Al-Sa'adi N (2010) Mineralogical composition of some Iraqi soil samples. Thamar University Thamar University J Nat Appl Sci 2:1–14Google Scholar
  13. Al-Sulaimi J, Mukhopadhyay A (2000) An overview of the surface and near-surface geology, geomorphology and natural resources of Kuwait. Earth-Sci Rev 50:227–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Awad AM, Al-Obaidi MM (2016) Geochemical and environmental assessment of some minor and trace elements in soils of Najaf Province, Southwest Iraq. Diyala J Pure Sci 12(2):143–160Google Scholar
  15. Awadh SM (2012) Geochemistry and mineralogical composition of the airborne particles of sand dunes and dust storms settled in Iraq and their environmental impacts. Environ Earth Sci 66:2247–2256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen J, Li G (2011) Geochemical studies on the source region of Asian dust. Sci China Earth Sci 54:1279–1301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chen M, Ma LQ, Harris WG (1999) Baseline concentrations of 15 trace elements in Florida surface soils. J Environ Qual 28:1173–1181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Draxler RR, Gillette DA, Kirkpatrick JS, Heller J (2001) Estimating PM10 air concentrations from dust storms in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Atmos Environ 35:4315–4330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Engelbrecht JP, McDonald EV, Gillies JA, Jayanty RKM, Casuccio G, Gertler AW (2009) Characterizing mineral dusts and other aerosols from the Middle East—part 2: grab samples and re-suspensions. Inhal Toxicol 21:327–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (1969) Reconnaissance soil survey. In: Ergun HN (ed) Report to the government of Kuwait, Funds-In-Trust for Kuwait Tf no 17, Rome, pp 1–101Google Scholar
  21. Freije AM (2015) Heavy metal, trace element and petroleum hydrocarbon pollution in the Arabian Gulf: review. J Assoc Arab Univ Basic Appl Sci 17:90–100Google Scholar
  22. Griffin DW (2007) Atmospheric movement of microorganisms in clouds of desert dust and implications for human health. Clin Microbiol Rev 20:459–477CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Habib RH, Awadh SM, Muslim MZ (2012) Toxic heavy metals in soil and some plants in Baghdad, Iraq. J Al-Nahrain Univ Sci 15(2):1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hamad SH, Schauer JJ, Shafer MM, Al-Rheemd EA, Skaar PS, Heo J, Tejedor-Tejedor I (2014) Risk assessment of total and bioavailable potentially toxic elements (PTEs) in urban soils of Baghdad–Iraq. Sci Total Environ 494–495:39–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hamon RE, McLaughlin MJ, Gilkes RJ, Rate AW, Zarcinas B, Robertson A, Cozens G, Radford N, Bettenay L (2004) Geochemical indices allow estimation of heavy metal background concentrations in soils. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 18:GB1014. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harrington AD, Schmidt MP, Szema AM, Galdanes K, Tsirka SE, Gordon T, Schoonen MAA (2017) The role of Iraqi dust in inducing lung injury in United States soldiers—an interdisciplinary study. GeoHealth 1:237–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hengl T, Mendes de Jesus J, Heuvelink GBM, Ruiperez Gonzalez M, Kilibarda M, Blagotić A, Shangguan W, Wright MN, Geng X, Bauer-Marschallinger B, Guevara MA, Vargas R, MacMillan RA, Batjes NH, Leenaars JGB, Ribeiro E, Wheeler I, Mantel S, Kempen B (2017) SoilGrids250m: global gridded soil information based on machine learning. PLoS One 12(2):e0169748. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hernandez L, Probst A, Probst JL, Ulrich E (2003) Heavy metal distribution in some French forest soils, evidence for atmospheric contamination. Sci Total Environ 312:195–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hooda PS (2010) Section 1 basic principles, processes, sampling, and analytical aspects: introduction. In: Hooda PS (ed) Trace elements in soil. Wiley, Oxford, pp 3–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kabata-Pendias A, Mukherjee AB (2007) Trace elements from soil to human. Springer-Verlag, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kabata-Pendias A, Pendias H (2001) Trace element in soils and plants, 3rd edn. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  32. Kalderon-Asael B, Erel Y, Sandler A, Dayan U (2009) Mineralogical and chemical characterization of suspended atmospheric particles over the East Mediterranean based on synoptic-scale circulation patterns. Atmos Environ 43:3963–3970CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Khalaf FI, Gharib IM, Al-Hashash MZ (1984) Types and characteristics of the recent surface deposits of Kuwait, Arabian Gulf. J Arid Environ 7:9–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Khalaf FI, Al-Kadi A, Al-Saleh S (1985) Mineralogical composition and potential sources of dust fallout deposits in Kuwait, northern Arabian Gulf. Sediment Geol 42(3–4):255–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kok J, Parteli EJR, Michaels TI, Karam Francis DB (2012) The physics of wind-blown sand and dust. Reports on progress in physics. Physical Society (Great Britain): 75, 106901.
  36. Kok JF, Ward DS, Mahowald NM, Evan AT (2018) Global and regional importance of the direct dust-climate feedback. Nat Commun 9(241).
  37. Leski TA, Gregory MJ, Malanoski AP, Smith JP, Glaven RH, Wang Z, Stenger DA, Lin B, (2010) Analysis of dust samples from the Middle East using high-density resequencing micro-array RPM-TEI. In: Carapezza EM (ed) Proc SPIE 7666, Sensors, and Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I) Technologies for Homeland Security and Homeland Defense IX, 76661E.
  38. Liu M, Westphal DL, Walker AL, Holt TR, Richardson KA, Miller SD (2007) COAMPS real-time dust storm forecasting during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Weather Forecast 22:192–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Luo X, Yu S, Li X (2011) Distribution, availability, and sources of trace metals in different particle size fractions of urban soils in Hong Kong: implications for assessing the risk to human health. Environ Pollut 159:1317–1326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Manta DS, Angelone M, Bellanca A, Rodolfo Neri A, Sprovieri M (2002) Heavy metals in urban soils: a case study from the city of Palermo (Sicily), Italy. Sci Total Environ 300:229–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martin JM, Meybeck M (1979) Elemental mass-balance of material carried by major world rivers. Mar Chem 7(3):173–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McDonald E, Caldwell T (2004) Geochemical and physical characterisation of Iraqi dust and soil samples. Desert Research Institute, Reno 56 pGoogle Scholar
  43. Middleton NJ (2017) Desert dust hazards: a global review. Aeolian Res 24:53–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Monecke K, McCarthy FG, Hubeny B, Ebel JE, Brabander DJ, Kielb S, Howey E, Janigian G, Pentesco J (2018) The 1755 Cape Ann earthquake recorded in lake sediments of eastern New England: an interdisciplinary paleoseismic approach. Seismol Res Lett 89(3):1212–1222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Muhaimeed AS, Saloom AJ, Saliem KA, Alani KA, Muklef WM (2014) Classification and distribution of Iraqi soils. Int J Agr Innovation Res 2(6):2319–1473Google Scholar
  46. Najafi MS, Khoshakhllagh F, Zamanzadeh SM, Shirazi MH, Samadi M, Hajikhani S (2014) Characteristics of TSP loads during the Middle East springtime dust storm (MESDS) in western Iran. Arab J Geosci 7:5367–5381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nriagu JO, Pacnya JM (1988) Quantitative assessment of world-wide contamination of air, water, and soils by trace metals. Nature 333:134–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parajuli SP, Yang Z-L, Kocurek G (2014) Mapping erodibility in dust source regions based on geomorphology, meteorology, and remote sensing. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:1977–1994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Prospero JM, Ginoux P, Torres O, Nicholson SE, Gill TE (2002) Environmental characterization of global sources of atmospheric soil dust identified with the NIMBUS 7 Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) absorbing aerosol product. Rev Geophys 40(1):1002. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Salah EA, Zaidan TA, Al-Rawi AS (2012) Assessment of heavy metals pollution in the sediments of Euphrates River, Iraq. J Water Resour Prot 4:1009–1023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Salah E, Turki A, Noori S (2013) Heavy metals concentration in urban soils of Fallujah City, Iraq. J Environ Earth Sci 3(11):100–112Google Scholar
  52. Salah EA, Turki AM, Mahal SN (2015) Chemometric evaluation of the heavy metals in urban soil of Fallujah City, Iraq. J Environ Prot 6:1279–1292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Salonen V-P, Korkka-Niemi K (2007) Influence of parent sediments on the concentration of heavy metals in urban and suburban soils in Turku, Finland. Appl Geochem 22:906–918CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schaider LA, Senn DB, Brabander DJ, Mccarthy KD, Shine JP (2007) Characterization of zinc, lead, and cadmium in mine waste: implications for transport, exposure, and bioavailability. Environ Sci Technol 41:4164–4171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sinex SA, Helz GR (1981) Regional geochemistry of trace elements in Chesapeake Bay sediments. Environ Geol 3:315–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sissakian VK, Al-Ansari N, Knutsson S (2013) Sand and dust storm events in Iraq. Nat Sci 5(10):1084–1094Google Scholar
  57. Smith JP (2007) Short-to-medium term sediment accumulation in low-energy subtidal areas of lower Hudson River estuary: geochemical tracers and applications. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, BostonGoogle Scholar
  58. Tack FMG (2010) Section 1 basic principles, processes, sampling, and analytical aspects: trace elements: general soil chemistry, principles and processes. In: Hooda PS (ed) Trace elements in soil. Wiley, Oxford, pp 9–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tanaka TY, Chiba M (2006) A numerical study of the contributions of dust source regions to the global dust budget. Glob Planet Chang 52(1–4):88–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tegen I, Werner M, Harrison SP, Kohfeld KE (2004) Relative importance of climate and land use in determining present and future global soil dust emission. Geophys Res Lett 31:L05105. Google Scholar
  61. Tomlinson D, Wilson J, Harris C, Jeffrey D (1980) Problems in the assessment of heavy-metal levels in estuaries and the formation of a pollution index. Helgol Mar Res 33(1–4):566–575Google Scholar
  62. Towett EK, Shepherd KD, Tondoh JE, Winowiecki LA, Lulseged T, Nyambura M, Sila AS, Vågen T-G, Cadisch G (2015) Total elemental composition of soils in sub-Saharan Africa and relationship with soil forming factors. Geoderma Reg 5:157–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Turekian KK, Wedephol KH (1961) Distribution of the elements in some major units of the earth’s crust. Geol Soc Am Bull 72:175–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. USEPA (1996) Method 3050b: acid digestion of sediments, sludges, and soils, revision 2. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  65. USEPA (2007) Method 3051a: microwave assisted acid dissolution of sediments, sludges, soils, and oils, revision 1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  66. Varol M (2011) Assessment of heavy metal contamination in sediments of the Tigris River (Turkey) using pollution indices and multivariate statistical techniques. J Hazard Mater 195:355–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Viswanathan MN, Al-Senafy MN, Mukhopadhyay A, Kodittuwakku KAW, Al-Fahad K (1997) Assessment of the long-term pollution potential of the groundwater of the Raudhatain–Umm Al-Aish Areas. Report No. KISR5006, vol II. Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, KuwaitGoogle Scholar
  68. Washington R, Todd M, Middleton NJ, Goudie AS (2003) Dust-storm source areas determined by the total ozone monitoring spectrometer and surface observations. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 93(2):297–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Zhang XY, Gong SL, Zhao TL, Arimoto R, Wang YQ, Zhou ZJ (2003) Sources of Asian dust and role of climate change versus desertification in Asian dust emission. Geophys Res Lett 30:6–9. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Oceanography, Mathematics & Science DivisionU. S. Naval AcademyAnnapolisUSA
  2. 2.Geosciences DepartmentWellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA

Personalised recommendations