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The increasing number of cemeteries has caused concern about the possibility of releasing hazardous chemicals and metals into the surroundings. Moreover, many studies use cemeteries for ‘background’ sampling. This study attempts to identify whether cemeteries are indeed good ‘background’ areas, or whether they themselves are sources of contamination. Possible contaminants include poisonous chemicals, such as arsenic and mercury, which were used in past embalming and burial practices, which used: formaldehyde from current embalming practices; varnishes, sealers, and preservatives used on wood coffins; and lead, zinc, copper, and steel from metal coffins. This study reports on adsorbed metals in a fine-grained soil from a large cemetery in Northwest Ohio. Metal analyses were performed by atomic absorption and inductively coupled plasma spectrometry. This preliminary investigation revealed numerous possible sources of contamination, and the data support the need for further research. The results of zinc, copper, lead, and iron reveal an increase in concentrations on-site as well as with depth, especially at the burial depth. Dramatic increases in arsenic indicate contamination from embalming fluids or wood preservatives. This study warrants a concern for the quality of soil, groundwater, and nearby surficial water systems.

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