Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and trace elements in Arctic soils: A case-study in Svalbard

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A combined assessment on the levels and distribution profiles of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and trace elements in soils from Pyramiden (Central Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago) is here reported. As previously stated, long-range atmospheric transport, coal deposits and previous mining extractions, as well as the stack emissions of two operative power plants at this settlement are considered as potential sources of pollution. Eight top-layer soil samples were collected and analysed for the 16 US EPA priority PAHs and for 15 trace elements (As, Be, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sn, Tl, V and Zn) during late summer of 2014. The highest levels of PAHs and trace elements were found in sampling sites located near two power plants, and at downwind from these sites. The current PAH concentrations were even higher than typical threshold values. The determination of the pyrogenic molecular diagnostic ratios (MDRs) in most samples revealed that fossil fuel burning might be heavily contributing to the PAHs levels. Two different indices, the Pollution Load Index (PLI) and the Geoaccumulation Index (Igeo), were determined for assessing soil samples with respect to trace elements pollution. Samples collected close to the power plants were found to be slightly and moderately polluted with zinc (Zn) and mercury (Hg), respectively. The Spearman correlation showed significant correlations between the concentrations of 16 PAHs and some trace elements (Pb, V, Hg, Cu, Zn, Sn, Be) with the organic matter content, indicating that soil properties play a key role for pollutant retention in the Arctic soils. Furthermore, the correlations between ∑16 PAHs and some trace elements (e.g., Hg, Pb, Zn and Cu) suggest that the main source of contamination is probably pyrogenic, although the biogenic and petrogenic origin of PAHs should not be disregarded according to the local geology.

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