Sources of lead in soil and dust and the use of dust fallout as a sampling medium

B. L. Gulson*, J. J. Davis, K. J. Mizon, M. J. Korsch, J. Bawden-Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

98 Citations (Scopus)


Pilot investigations using stable lead isotope and scanning electron microscopic analyses have been undertaken in different environments ranging from mining and smelting to urban in order to better understand the source of, and relationships between, soil and house dust. House dust is characterised by vacuum cleaner dust and/or surface wipes and compared with long-term dust (dust fall) accumulations over a > 3-month interval or with airborne particulates. Finer grain sizes of soils have lead concentrations from 2 to 9 times those measured in the bulk fractions. In Broken Hill isotopic ratios show that the major source of lead in soils is from the orebody, with rare examples containing lead from paint sources. In inner Sydney, soil lead values vary from 37 to 2660 ppm Pb in bulk samples and up to 3130 ppm in the finer fractions. The lead may be from diverse sources such as gasoline or paint. Finer fractions of vacuum cleaner dust from both Broken Hill and Sydney may contain up to three times the amount of lead measured in the bulk samples. In Broken Hill, the percentages by weight of total lead in the -250-μm fraction range from 11 to 51%. Bulk vacuum cleaner dusts from Broken Hill contain up to 4490 ppm Pb. Bulk vacuum cleaner dusts from inner Sydney contain up to 2950 ppm Pb. Isotopic variations in fractions of vacuum cleaner dust containing > 1000 ppm Pb from inner Sydney indicate that the lead in dust has come from different sources and such differences lessen the usefulness of analyses of bulk vacuum cleaner dust. Our results reinforce the importance of analysing the finer fraction of soil and house dust, especially those in the -150-μm (or even -100-μm) fraction for soils and the -100-μm fraction for vacuum cleaner dust. Dust-fall accumulations have many advantages over more conventional methods for estimating lead in house dust, such as vacuum cleaner dust or surface wipes. These advantages include: low cost; no power source required; can be set up by a technician; minimal inconvenience to householder (i.e., no power required, no noise, out of the way, a few minutes to set up and collect); integrates lead flux over a specific period; usually unbiased (in contrast to vacuuming or wipes where the householder may clean prior to a sampling visit); easy to 'control' by placement of other dishes in the same house. For Broken Hill, a strong correlation (r = 0.95) was obtained between the isotopic composition of lead in blood and dust-fall accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-262
Number of pages18
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Dust
  • Dust fall
  • Isotopes
  • Lead
  • Soil

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