The concentration of selected trace metals in South African soils
Thesis (PhD (Soil Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.
Trace elements occur naturally in soils, usually at low concentrations (<0.1% or <1000 mg kg-1 of the earth’s crust), as a result of weathering and pedogenic processes acting on the rock fragments from which soil develops (parent material). Since about 98% of human food is produced on land, soil is the primary source supplying these elements to the food chain. Although cases of trace element deficiency and toxicity have been documented in many parts of South Africa, no comprehensive description of trace element concentration has yet been attempted for South Africa as a whole. The Natural Resources Land Type mapping project, initiated in the mid-1970s, has provided a collection of samples (approximately 4500) from soil profiles selected to represent the main soil forms in each land type and therefore to provide representative coverage of most of the soils of South Africa. These archived samples have now been analysed for a spectrum of trace elements, in terms of both available and total concentrations as well as other soil properties. Although detailed information is available on a wide range of trace metals, the seven trace metals considered to be of most interest in a South African context due to natural geological occurrences were selected for this study, including Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Pb, Ni and Zn. This data was used to: • determine baseline concentrations in SA soils; • determining threshold values for South African agricultural soils receiving sewage sludge at agronomic rates; • determining the influence of certain soil properties on the baseline concentrations of these trace elements in SA soils; and • development of a bioavailable trace element distribution map for SA. The range, the mean and standard deviation (both arithmetic and geometric), and the median were used to summarize the data statistically. The baseline concentration range was calculated using the quotient and product of the geometric mean and the square of the geometric standard deviation, including data below the instrument detection limit. The upper limit of the baseline concentration range was set at the 0.975 percentile value of the population in order to minimize the influence of contamination and the lower limit at the 0.025 percentile value to minimize problems that might be associated with analytical uncertainty near the lower limit of detection. The quantile regression statistical approach was followed to illustrate the relationship between soil properties and trace element concentrations in soils. The soil properties that showed the strongest relation were CEC, clay content, pH (H2O) and S value (base status). The soils were then divided into different classes according to these soil properties and baseline concentrations were derived for the different classes. Soils with low clay contents have lower trace element concentrations than soils with higher clay contents, soils with low or high pH levels have lower trace element contents than soils with intermediate pH values and mesotrophic soils have higher trace element concentrations than dystrophic soils. This information is useful for the compilation of trace element distribution maps for South Africa where different soil forms and series/families could be classified into different classes to determine areas of potential deficiencies as well as toxicities. South Africa, with its diverse geology, has areas of both trace element toxicities and deficiencies and for decision-making purposes it is necessary to identify these areas. Mapping of trace element levels based on soil samples would provide valuable information, which cannot be obtained from geological or geographical maps. Statistical analyses of the data (clay %, base status, pH (H2O) and NH4EDTA extractable trace element concentrations) indicated that soils could be divided into five trace element classes based on their clay content, pH and base status (dystrophic, mesotrophic and eutrophic). The soil series according to the binomial soil classification system for South Africa were then divided into these different classes. The geometric means for each clay class were determined and the baseline concentration range for each class was calculated. The land type maps were used as basis for the distribution maps. A general trace element distribution map for South Africa was derived from this data as well as Cu and Zn distribution maps. A random selection of 500 soil samples across the country was used to verify the accuracy of the distribution map. The general trace element distribution map indicate, with a confidence level between 89 and 96%, where the potentially available trace element content of South African soils are low (deficient) too moderately high, excluding rocky areas and areas with limited soil. The Cu and Zn maps indicate the distribution and expected baseline concentrations of these specific elements in South African soils. The same methodology could be applied to derive risk maps for all the individual trace elements to indicate the distribution and expected baseline concentrations of the elements in South Africa. This presentation of baseline concentrations, reflecting likely natural ranges in South African soils, is the first quantitative report on the spatial extent and intensity of Zn, Cu and Co deficiency in South African soils. The proposal of new threshold values for trace elements in agricultural soils will be valuable in setting more realistic norms for environmental contamination that accommodate the geochemical peculiarities of the region, one example being rather high Cr and Ni concentrations with low bio-availability. This information should be of value not only in environmental pollution studies but also in health, agriculture, forestry and wildlife management. The following recommendations are made: • The baseline concentrations could be used to determine site specific threshold values based on soil properties and soil type. Soils with lower pH, clay content and CEC would require more protection than soils with high pH, clay content and CEC and therefore the threshold levels for these soils should be lower. • Although the distribution maps can be used to indicate broad areas of trace element deficiencies and toxicities, more detailed investigations are recommended for areas where problems are experienced. The same methodology could be applied on smaller scale to increase the value of the map and to add more value on a regional scale. The maps could be used for regional soil quality assessment especially in areas where trace element deficiencies or toxicities could result in negative effects on plants and animals.