Atmospheric remobilization of natural and anthropogenic contaminants during wildfires

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    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Globally, wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity, exposing populations to toxic trace elements stored within forests. Trace element and Pb isotope compositions in aerosols (n = 87) from four major wildfires near Sydney, Australia (1994-2004) were evaluated (Mood's median test) to determine any significant differences in concentration before, during or after wildfires. The US EPA's positive matrix factorization (PMF) model was used to distinguish a wildfire-related particulate source factor. Atmospheric concentrations of Cd and Mn were approximately 2.5 times higher during fire periods. PMF modelling distinguished a soil factor (Ca, Si, Ti and Zn) and an anthropogenically-sourced factor (Cd, Pb). The Cd, Pb anthropogenic factor was present at twice the concentration during wildfire periods (compared to before or after). Lead isotopic analyses of aerosols revealed that former leaded gasoline depositions were subject to remobilization during post-2000 wildfire periods. Trace element increases during wildfires are unlikely to exceed health-based criteria. Wildfires remobilize trace metal contaminants, Cd and Pb, from past anthropogenic emissions into the atmosphere. These were not found to be at a level of concern for health risk.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number115400
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalEnvironmental Pollution
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


    • Lead (Pb)
    • Particles
    • Legacy
    • Emission
    • Trace metals


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