Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 32, Issue 5, pp 451–459 | Cite as

Identification of sources of environmental lead in South Africa from surface soil geochemical maps

  • Stephanie de Villiers
  • Christien Thiart
  • Nicholas C. Basson
Original Paper


The bioavailability of lead in soil is of considerable importance to human and animal health. Although selective extraction has been explored as a more appropriate technique than total heavy metal analysis in environmental pollution assessments, such studies remain scarce globally and are almost non-existent in developing countries. Results for a large-scale study of extractable lead levels in undisturbed soil samples in South Africa identify several geographic areas of concern. Lead levels are considerably elevated relative to background levels in the Johannesburg urban and industrial area. Areas of active lead mining also exhibit higher surface soil values. Interestingly, areas of active and intensive coal mining activity display relatively low soil Pb values, possibly attributable to the relatively low heavy metal content of South African coal. In all instances, distribution of cadmium, a carcinogenic element, correlates with that of lead. The results demonstrate the usefulness of the quick and easy Mehlich-3 single extractant technique, an established technique in micronutrient studies, to simultaneously provide valuable environmental data for toxic metals such as Pb and Cd.


Bioavailability Cadmium Lead Mehlich-3 Surface soil 



We would like to thank Nabréne Visser for assisting with the laboratory processing of soil samples, and the manager of the ICP-MS facility, Riana Rossouw, for her always valuable assistance. This research was funded by a NRF grant to S. de Villiers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie de Villiers
    • 1
  • Christien Thiart
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nicholas C. Basson
    • 3
  1. 1.AEON (Africa Earth Observatory Network)University of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of StatisticsUniversity of Cape TownRondeboshSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of ChemistryUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa

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