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Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Oct 15;45(20):8642-7. doi: 10.1021/es2004599. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

A 3500-year record of Hg and Pb contamination in a mediterranean sedimentary archive (the Pierre Blanche Lagoon, France).

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Laboratoire Hydrosciences UMR 5569, CNRS, Universités Montpellier I & II, IRD, Place Eugène Bataillon, CC MSE, France.


A sediment core encompassing 3500 years of continuous sedimentation has been collected from a coastal lagoon located on the southwestern French Mediterranean coast. Lead concentrations and stable isotopes show that the sediments have recorded the three major periods of Pb pollution: the Etruscan-Greek-Roman period (650 BC to AD 50), the medieval period (AD 650 to AD 1450), and the modern period (from around AD 1850 to the present). These periods were separated by low pollution periods during the Dark Ages (between AD 50 and 650) and during the 16th century. From the end of the 19th century to the 1960s, Pb pollution increased exponentially. Coal combustion was the major source of Pb in the lagoon in the second half of the 20th century. Both the decrease in coal consumption and the ban on leaded gasoline resulted in a decrease in Pb pollution by a factor of 1.5 between 1973 and 1995. From 1991, sewage treatment plants and incinerators could be the major source of Pb. The average baseline Hg concentration from 1525 BC to AD 900 was 0.017 ± 0.003 μg g⁻¹ (n = 54). The Hg concentrations profile shows three major peaks: in AD 1150, AD 1660, and AD 1969, with the concentrations being respectively 8, 5, and 34 times higher than the baseline levels. The medieval peak (AD 1150) is attributed the medical use of Hg in the town of Montpellier and/or the burning of soil and vegetation. Noticeable Hg pollution was also detected during the 17th century in relation to gold and silver amalgamation in Europe. From the end of the 19th century, Hg concentrations increased exponentially until 1969. This modern pollution is attributed to the burning of coal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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