Geochemical characterization and biomonitoring of reclaimed soils in the Po River Delta (Northern Italy): implications for the agricultural activities
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This geochemical study is focused on the easternmost part of the Po River alluvial plain in Northern Italy, which is interested by widespread agricultural activities, investigating a reclaimed sector of the Province of Ferrara, known as “Valle del Mezzano” (Mezzano Low Land, hereafter reported as MLL) characterized by peat-rich soils. The chemical–mineralogical characterization of these reclaimed soils is important to compare the local geochemical backgrounds with those recorded in other sectors of the River Po plain and to monitor if the observed concentration exceeds critical thresholds. The reported analyses include (a) measurement of the soil salinity, (b) nutrient evaluation, (c) major and trace element concentrations carried out on bulk soils, (d) tests of metal extraction with both aqua regia and EDTA to highlight the distinct elemental mobility and (e) phyto-toxicological measurement of heavy metal concentrations in plants (Lactuca sativa acephala) grown on the studied soils. The results indicate (1) high soil salinity, often with drastic increase of sodium and chloride along the soil profiles, (2) high nitrogen content (in part related to anthropogenic activities) on superficial horizons and nitrate decrease along the soil profiles and (3) comparative enrichments in heavy metals with respect to other soils of the province, which indicate that peat deposits are effective in trapping metals from anthropogenic sources. This, in turn, implies potential geochemical risks for the agricultural activities. In this regard, specific concerns are related to the high nickel and arsenic content of MLL soils due to the mobility of these elements and their attitude to be taken up by plants.
KeywordsReclaimed soils Po River Delta Soil salinity Nitrate Heavy metals Bioavailability
The authors thank Dr. R. Tassinari for the analytical support and the referees and editors for their constructive comments that helped to improve earlier versions of the manuscript. Moreover, the first Author acknowledges that this research has been developed within the framework of the European LIFE +2010 project ‘‘ZeoLIFE “ (project code: LIFE+10 ENV/IT/000321; http://en.zeolife.it/), and is grateful to the EC for the received funding.
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