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This study examined the recycling of lead (Pb) in ash from wildfires, its source and potential contribution to environmental contamination. Ash from wildfires was collected from four Australian sites following uncontrolled fires during 2012 to 2013 close to major urban populations in Sydney (New South Wales), Hobart (Tasmania) and Adelaide (South Australia). The samples were analysed for their total Pb concentration and Pb isotopic composition to determine the sources of Pb and the extent, if any, of industrial contamination and its recycling into the ecosystem. Median ash concentrations (23 mg/kg) released from a wildfire close to Australia's largest city, Sydney, exceeded the median ash Pb concentrations from wildfires from the less populated locations of Hobart, Adelaide and NSW Central Coast. Lead isotopic compositions of Duffys Forest wildfire ash demonstrate that anthropogenic inputs from legacy leaded petrol depositions were the predominant source of contamination. Despite the cessation of leaded petrol use in Australia in 2002, historic petrol Pb deposits continue to be a substantial source of contamination in ash: petrol Pb contributed 35% of the Pb in the Woy Woy ash, 73% in Duffys Forest ash, 39% in Forcett ash and 5% in Cherryville ash. The remobilisation of legacy industrial Pb depositions by wildfires in ash results in it being a persistent and problematic contaminant in contemporary environmental systems because of its known toxicity.
- Pb isotopic composition
- Leaded petrol
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