You are on page 1of 27

Environmental Skeptics and Critics

Vol. 3, No. 2, 1 J une 2014























Qi Zhang/Apr 2014














International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Environmental Skeptics and Critics
ISSN 2224-4263
Volume 3, Number 2, 1 J une 2014



Editor-in-Chief
WenJ un Zhang
Sun Yat-sen University, China
International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Hong Kong
E-mail: zhwj@mail.sysu.edu.cn, wjzhang@iaees.org


Editorial Board
Taicheng An (Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences,
China)
Andre Bianconi (Sao Paulo State University (Unesp), Brazil)
Alessandro Ferrarini (University of Parma, Italy)
Gianluigi de Gennaro (University of Bari 'A. Moro', Italy)
Marcello Iriti (Milan State University, Italy)
Suyash Kumar (Govt. PG Science College, India)
GuangHua Liu (Guangdong AIB Polytech College, China)
T.N. Manohara (Rain Forest Research Institute, India)
Lev V. Nedorezov (University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia)
Edoardo Puglisi (Universit Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy)
Mohammad Hossein Sayadi Anari (University of Birjand, Iran)
Mohammed Rafi G. Sayyed (Poona College, India)
R.N. Tiwari (Govt. P.G.Science College, India)



Editorial Office: environsc@iaees.org





Publisher: International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Address: Flat C, 23/F, Lucky Plaza, 315-321 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Tel: 00852-6555 7188
Fax: 00852-3177 9906
Website: http://www.iaees.org/
E-mail: office@iaees.org
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org

Article

A review on heavy metal contamination in the soil worldwide:
Situation, impact and remediation techniques

Chao Su
1
, LiQin Jiang
1
, WenJun Zhang
1,2

1
School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China;
2
International Academy of Ecology and
Environmental Sciences, Hong Kong
E-mail: zhwj@mail.sysu.edu.cn, wjzhang@iaees.org

Received 26 March 2014; Accepted 21 April 2014; Published online 1 June 2014


Abstract
Heavy metals in the soil refers to some significant heavy metals of biological toxicity, including mercury (Hg),
cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), and arsenic (As), etc. With the development of the global economy,
both type and content of heavy metals in the soil caused by human activities have gradually increased in recent
years, which have resulted in serious environment deterioration. In present study we compared and analyzed
soil contamination of heavy metals in various cities/countries, and reviewed background, impact and
remediation methods of soil heavy metal contamination worldwide.

Keywords soil; heavy metals; contamination; remediation; world.









1 Introduction
Heavy metal contamination refers to the excessive deposition of toxic heavy metals in the soil caused by
human activities. Heavy metals in the soil include some significant metals of biological toxicity, such as
mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), chromium (Cr) and arsenic (As), etc. They also include other heavy
metals of certain biological toxicity, such as zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), stannum (Sn), vanadium (V),
and so on.
In recent years, with the development of the global economy, both type and content of heavy metals in the
soil caused by human activities have gradually increased, resulting in the deterioration of the environment
(Han et al., 2002; Sayyed and Sayadi, 2011; J ean-Philippe et al., 2012; Raju et al., 2013; Prajapati and Meravi,
2014; Sayadi and Rezaei, 2014; Zojaji et al., 2014). Heavy metals are highly hazardous to the environment and
organisms. It can be enriched through the food chain. Once the soil suffers from heavy metal contamination, it
is difficult to be remediated.
EnvironmentalSkepticsandCritics
ISSN22244263
URL:http://www.iaees.org/publications/journals/environsc/onlineversion.asp
RSS:http://www.iaees.org/publications/journals/environsc/rss.xml
Email:environsc@iaees.org
EditorinChief:WenJunZhang
Publisher:InternationalAcademyofEcologyandEnvironmentalSciences
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
In the past, soil contamination was not considered as important as air and water pollution, because soil
contamination was often with wide range and was more difficult to be controlled and governed than air and
water pollution. However, in recent years the soil contamination in developed countries becomes to be serious.
It is thus paid more and more attention and became a hot topic of environmental protection worldwide.
To understand the current situation and the impact of heavy metal contamination of soils in the world, in
present study we will compare and analyze the contamination data of various cities/countries, and explore
background, impact and remediation methods of heavy metal contamination of soils.

2 Characteristics, Sources and Harmfulness of Heavy Metal Contamination in the Soil
2.1 Characteristics of heavy metal contamination of soils
2.1.1 Wide distribution
With the development of economy and society, heavy metal contamination has become increasingly common
in the world. It is almost a serious threat to every country. In the world's top ten environmental events, two
events have related to heavy metal contamination (Yang and Sun, 2009).
2.1.2 Strong latency
Heavy metal contamination is colorless and odorless, so it is difficult to be noticed. It does not explicitly
damage the environment in a short period. Nevertheless, when it exceeds the environmental tolerance, or when
environmental conditions have changed, heavy metals in the soil may be activated and cause serious ecological
damage. So heavy metal contamination is usually chemical Time Bombs (CTBs) (Wood, 1974).
2.1.3 Irreversibility and remediation hardness
If the air and water are polluted, the pollution problem can be reversed certainly by dilution and
self-purification after switching off the sources of pollution. However, it is difficult to use dilution or
self-purification techniques to eliminate heavy metal contamination and to get soils improved. Some soils
contaminated by heavy metals are likely to take one or two hundred years to be remediated (Wood, 1974).
Therefore, heavy metal contamination needs relatively high cost of remediation and the remediation cycle is
relative long.
2.1.4 Complex heavy metal contamination
In the past, soil contamination was mainly caused by a single heavy metal. However, in recent years more
cases are found to be caused by a variety of heavy metals (Zhou, 1995). The complex contamination caused by
a variety of heavy metals will always amplify the contamination by heavy metals separately. Qin et al. (2008)
showed that in terms of the influence on soil respiration, Cu+Pb >Pb >Cu.
2.2 Sources of heavy metals
Excess heavy metals in the soil originate from many sources, which include atmospheric deposition, sewage
irrigation, improper stacking of the industrial solid waste, mining activities, the use of pesticides and fertilizers
(Zhang et al., 2011), etc. Table 1 showsvarious sources of heavy metals contaminating soils in the world (Qin
et al., 2008).
2.2.1 Atmosphere to soils pathway
Heavy metals in the atmosphere are mainly from gas and dust produced by energy, transport, metallurgy and
production of construction materials. Excepting mercury, heavy metals basically go into the atmosphere in the
form of aerosol and deposit to the soil through natural sedimentation and precipitation, etc. For example, the
lead pollution (Lin, 1998) in a downtown, Central Sweden, was reported mainly from the urban industrial
copper plant, sulfuric acid plant, paint factory, and the large amount of waste from mining and chemical
industries. Due to transporting by wind, these fine lead particles spread from industrial waste heap to
surrounding areas. The superimposed chromium contamination by a heavy industrial factory producing
25
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
chromium (Zhang, 1997)

in Nanjing, was reported more than 4.4 times of the local background value. The
chromium contamination was centered on the chimney of workshop, ranging up to 1.5 km
2
, and extending
1.38 km away. A sulfuric acid production plant in Russia (Meshalkina, 1996) was reported to contaminate the
environment because of the discharge of S, V, and As from the factory chimneys.

Table 1 Different sources of heavy metals contaminating soils annually in the world (1000 t a
-1
).
Sources As Cd Cr Cu Hg Ni Pb Zn
Agriculture and
food waste
0~0.6 0~0.3 4.5~90 3~38 0~1.5 6~45 1.5~27 12~150
Farmyard manure 1.2~4.4 0.2~1.2 10~60 14~80 0~0.2 3~36 3.2~20 150~320
Logging and timber
Industry wastes
0~3.3 0~2.2 2.2~18 3.3~52 0~2.2 2.2~23 6.6~8.2 13~65
Municipal wastes 0.09~0.7 0.88~7.5 6.6~33 13~40 0~0.26 2.2~10 18~62 22~97
Municipal sludge 0.01~0.24 0.02~0.34 1.4~11 4.9~21 0.01~0.8 5.0~22 2.8~9.7 18~57
Organic wastes 0~0.25 0~0.01 0.1~0.48 0.04~0.61 - 0.17~3.2 0.02~1.6 0.13~2.1
Metal processing
solid wastes
0.01~0.21 0~0.08 0.65~2.4 0.95~7.6 0~0.08 0.84~2.5 4.1~11 2.7~19
Coal ash 6.7~37 1.5~13 149~446 93~335 0.37~4.8 56~279 45~242 112~484
Fertilizer 0~0.02 0.03~0.25 0.03~0.38 0.05~0.58 - 0.20~3.5 0.42~2.3 0.25~1.1
Marl 0.04~0.5 0~0.11 0.04~0.19 0.15~2.0 0~0.02 0.22~3.5 0.45~2.6 0.15~3.5
Commodity
impurities
36~41 0.78~1.6 305~610 395~790 0.55~0.82 6.5~32 195~390 310~620
Atmospheric
deposition
8.4~18 2.2~8.4 5.1~38 14~36 0.63~4.3 11~37 202~263 49~135
Total 52~112 5.6~38 484~1309 541~1367 1.6~15 106~544 479~1113 689~2054
Source from Nriagu and Pacyna, 1988.

Transport, especially the automotive transport, causes serious heavy metal contamination (Pb, Zn, Cd, Cr,
Cu, etc.) of the atmosphere and soils (Falahiardakani, 1984). Heavy metals come from burning leaded gasoline
and the dust produced by automobile tire wear. According to the report, the exhaust from the car contained Pb
up to 20 ~50 g / L, which formed a zonal distribution and there was a clear difference as the change of the
distance of from railway, traffic highway, city center, and the car traffic volume. In the Nanjing section of
Nanjing-Hangzhou highway, the soil on both sides of the road had formed contamination zone of Pb, Cr, and
Co. And the contamination zone was distributed along the direction of the highway. The contamination was
weakened along the direction of the both sides of the highway. The amount of heavy metals which went into
the soil through natural deposition and raining sedimentation are related to the level of development of heavy
industry, the city's population density, land utilization and traffic level. Soil contamination became to be
heavier as closing to the city (Chen, 2002).
2.2.2 Sewage to soils pathway
Wastewater can be divided into several categories, sanitary sewage, chemical wastewater, industrial mining
wastewater and urban mining mixed sewage, etc. Heavy metals are brought to the soil by irrigative sewage and
are fixed in the soil in different ways. It causes heavy metals (Hg, Cd, Pb, Cr, etc.) to continually accumulate in
the soil year by year.
Sewage irrigation is a feasible way to solve the problem of crop irrigation in the arid area. However,
26
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
heavy metal contamination caused by sewage irrigation must be paid enough attention. Quality of irrigative
sewage must be strictly controlled within the national quality standard for irrigation water.
2.2.3 Solid wastes to soils pathway
There are a variety of solid wastes which have complex composition. Of which mining and industrial solid
waste contamination is the most serious. When these wastes are in the process of being piled or governed,
heavy metals move easily due to the facilitation of sunlight, raining and washing. And they spread to the
surrounding water and soils at the shape of funnel and radiation.
With the development of industry and the acceleration of urban environmental construction, sewage
treatment is continuing to be strengthened. China now has more than 80 sewage treatment plants, with the
estimated 400 million tons of sludge production. Due to the high content of organic matter, nitrogen and
phosphorus in the sludge, soils become the main places for soil sludge treatment. In general, Cr, Pb, Cu, Zn
and As in the sludge will exceed the control standards easily (Ding, 2000).
Solid wastes can expand contamination scope easily with the help of wind and water.
2.2.4 Agricultural supplies to soils pathway
Fertilizers, pesticides and mulch are important agricultural inputs for agricultural production (Zhang and
Zhang, 2007; Zhang et al., 2011). Nevertheless, the long-term excessive application has resulted in the heavy
metal contamination of soils. The vast majority of pesticides are organic compounds, and a few are organic -
inorganic compound or pure mineral, and some pesticides contain Hg, As, Cu, Zn and other heavy metals
(Arao et al., 2010).
Heavy metals are the most reported pollutants in fertilizers. Heavy metal content is relatively low in
nitrogen and potash fertilizers, while phosphoric fertilizers usually contain considerable toxic heavy metals.
Heavy metals in the compound fertilizers are mainly from master materials and manufacturing processes. The
content of heavy metals in fertilizers is generally as follows: phosphoric fertilizer>compound fertilizer>
potash fertilizer>nitrogen fertilizer (Boyd, 2010). Cd is an important heavy metal contaminant in the soil. Cd
is brought to soils with the application of phosphoric fertilizers. Many studies showed that, with the
application of a large amount of phosphate fertilizers and compound fertilizers, the available content of Cd in
soils increases constantly, and Cd taken by plants increases accordingly. In recent years, the mulch has been
promoted and used in large areas, which results in white pollution of soils, because the heat stabilizers, which
contain Cd and Pb, are always added in the production process of mulch. This increases heavy metal
contamination of soils (Satarug et al., 2003).
2.3 Impact of heavy metal contamination of soils
2.3.1 Impact on soil microorganisms and enzymatic activity
Microbial activity and enzymatic activity of the soil can sensitively reflect the quality of the soil (Lee et al.,
1996). Aceves et al. (1999) held that microbial biomass of the soil was an important indicator of determining
the extent of soil contamination. Microbial activity is inhibited significantly in the heavy metal contaminated
soil. Kandeler et al. (1997) indicated that the microbial biomass in the soil contaminated by Cu, Zn, Pb and
other heavy metals were inhibited severely. The soils microbial biomass near the mine was significantly lower
than that far away from the mine. And the effects of different concentrations of heavy metals and different
heavy metals on soil microbial biomass were different. Chander et al. (1995) studied the effect of different
concentrations of heavy metals on soil microbial biomass, and found that only if the concentration of heavy
metals in the soil was three times above the environmental standard, established by the European Union, it
could inhibit microbial biomass. Fliebbach et al. (1994) found that low concentrations of heavy metals could
stimulate microbial growth and increase microbial biomass; while high concentrations could decrease soil
microbial biomass significantly. In addition, the enzymes in the soil play an important role in the process of
27
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Studies have showed that the activities of enzymes in the
soil are related to the heavy metal contamination. Chander et al. (1995) found that the activities of almost all
enzymes in the soil were significantly reduced by 10 to 50 times with the increase of the concentration of
heavy metals.
2.3.2 Impact on the plants
Low concentration of soil heavy metals, regardless of necessary or unnecessary to plants, will not affect the
growth of plants in a certain range. But if the concentration is too high, the content of heavy metals enriched
by the plant exceeds its tolerance threshold, and thus the plant will be poisoned and it even leads to death of
the plant. In Florida, it was found that if the copper content in soil was more than 50 mg/ kg, it would affect
citrus seedlings; if soil copper content reached 200mg/ kg, wheat would wither (Zhang et al., 1989). Research
found that the growth of cabbage and bean seedling under Cd concentration of 30 mol/ L was inhibited: the
root length decreased, and the plant height and leaf area dropped (Qin et al., 1994). Cd may interfere crop
photosynthesis and protein synthesis, and may cause membrane damage, etc (Acar and Alshawabkeh, 1993;
Kale, 1993).
2.3.3 Impact on humans
Existing research showed that heavy metals in urban soils may go into the human body through skin
absorption and inhalation of dust, etc., and thus directly damage, especially children's health. They also affect
the urban environmental quality and damage human health indirectly through polluting the food, water and
atmosphere. In a study on the content of Pb in children blood, Yabe et al. (2010) found that the contaminated
soil dust in the city was an important factor to affect human health. According to the survey, there is about 30%
of Chinese children's blood whose content of Pb exceeds the home standard (100 g/ L); this rate in cities is
more than 60%. According to a study (Robert and J ones, 2009), the content of Pb in urban children's blood and
the content of Pb in the soil of the city exhibited a significant exponential relationship (blood
Pb=18.5+7.2*soil Pb0.4).
Cd may damage the metabolism of calcium, which will cause calcium deficiency and result in cartilage
disease and bone fractures, etc. Agency for Toxic Substances Management Committee has listed Cd as the
sixth most toxic substance that damages human health.
Pb mainly enters human body through the digestive tract and respiratory tract, and then goes into the
blood circulation in the form of soluble salts, protein complexes or ions, etc. 95% of the insoluble phosphate
lead accumulates in bones. Pb is strongly pro-organizational. It affects and damages many of the body organs
and systems, such as kidney, liver, reproductive system, nervous system, urinary system, immune system and
the basic physiological processes of cells and gene expression.
Cu, Zn and Ni are essential trace metals in the human body, but if the body takes excessive Cu, Zn and Ni
from the outside environment, they will damage human health. Ni and Cu are tumor promoting factors, whose
carcinogenesis effect has attracted global concerns. Workers who are in close contact with the nickel powder
are more likely to suffer from respiratory cancer, and the content of Ni in the environment is positively
correlated with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (Chen, 2011).
According to a latest report (Phoenix Satellite TV, 2014), As has resulted in serious damage to farmers in
Heshan Village, Shimen County, Changde City, Hunan Province, China (Fig. 1 & 2). There was ever a As
processing factory in this village between 1951 and 1978. Most farmers had worked in the factory during that
period. Since 1951, waters, soils, crops and the environment have been terribly contaminated by As. The As
content in the soil has reached 92.7 mg/kg
-1
, and in the river water it is now 10 times of the permissible limit.
Many plants have been dying. Crops can only be produced for livestock use. About 1800 workers in the
factory (they are also farmers in the village) have suffered from chronic As poisoning (Fig. 2). About 400
28
IAEES
workers
cancer, c
people in
lands in
although

Fig. 1 A

(a)
Fig. 2 Skin
QiBing Zh
fester. Sys

3 Curren
In recent
soils and
directly t
by crops
(Aeliona
Num
emission
industria
chemical
have died fro
colorectal can
n the same fa
the village,
h the environm
A profile of Hes

n symptoms of
hao, back; c: Qi
stematic festerin
nt Situation
t years, sever
d agricultural
through inges
s. Ingesting h
a et al., 2008).
merous studie
ns from trans
al wastes (fro
l plants, etc.),
En
om various A
ncer, uterine c
mily died fro
821 househo
mental remed
shan Village, Sh

As poisoning o
ianKuan Zhang
ng usually mean
of Soil Heav
ral studies ha
soils are diffe
stion, skin co
heavy metals
.
es indicated t
sport (exhaus
om power p
, household g
nvironmental Sk
As-induced c
cancer, etc., o
om cancers. D
olders of the
diation project
himen County, C
(b)
of three farmers
g, right hand. Sm
ns that cancer c
vy Metal Con
ave shown tha
ferent (Babula
ontact, etc. H
through the
that the majo
st, tire wear
plants, coal c
garbage, build
keptics and Crit
ancers betwe
of which there
Due to the ser
village are n
t has started i
Changde City, H

s (Phoenix Satel
mall white spots
cells have sprea
ntamination
at the charact
a et al., 2008)
Heavy metals
soil - crop s
or sources of
debris partic
combustion,
ding and wea
tics, 2014, 3(2)
een 1951 and
e are 300 lun
rious contami
now appealin
in recent year
Hunan Province

llite TV, 2014).
s caused by As
d to whole body
in the World
teristics of th
). Heavy meta
in agricultur
system is a m
f heavy metal
cles, particle
metallurgica
thered particl
): 24-38
d 2012: skin
ng cancer case
ination over m
ng for migrat
rs.
e, China (Phoen

(c)
a: ZhaoYuan G
will enlarge to
y.
d
he heavy meta
als in urban s
al soils are a
major way of
l contaminati
s formed by
al industry, a
les of sidewa
cancer, liver
es. A typical
more than 10
ting to the o

nix Satellite TV
Gong, left-down
become pimple
al contamina
soils may go i
absorbed and
f damaging h
ion in urban
y weathering
automobile r
alk and precip
www.iaees.org
cancer, lung
case is that 7
00 hectares of
other regions,
V, 2014).
n back; b:
es, and then
tion in urban
into the body
accumulated
human health
soils include
street, etc.),
repair plants,
pitation in the
g
g
7
f
,

n
y
d
h
e
,
,
e
29
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
atmosphere, etc. However, the major sources of heavy metal contamination in agricultural soils include the
impact from the city, smelting minerals, waste treatment (such as landfill, etc.), sewage sludge, automobile
exhaust, fertilizers and pesticides, etc (Montagne et al., 2007).

In recent years, heavy metal contamination in China's urban and agricultural soils is rapidly getting worse
with the development of industrial activities. According to Bulletin on National Survey of Soil Contamination,
jointly issued by Ministry of Environmental Protection of China and the Ministry of Land Resources of China
in recent days, nearly 4 million of hectares of arable lands have been contaminated moderately or severely,
which accounts for about 2.9% of Chinas arable lands. The proportion of soils that exceeds environmental
standard reaches 16.1%, of which the proportion for the slight, mild, moderate and severe contamination are
11.2%, 2.3%, 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively. Most of soil contamination is inorganic (82.8%), seconded by
organic, and the third is complex contamination. Contamination of arable land soil exceeds the 19.4%, of
which the proportion for the slight, mild, moderate and severe contamination is 13.7%, 2.8%, 1.8% and 1.1%,
respectively, and the most contaminants include Cd, Ni, Cu, As, Hg, Pb, DDT and PAHs.
Worldwide the samples of urban soils and agricultural soils are mainly collected from the depths of the 10
cm to 20 cm of soils. In urban soils, samples are collected from parks, green spaces and urban street. These
samples are mixed, dried and screened out through a mesh of less than 2 mm, and then is processed and
cleared up through a mixed acid (such as HF, HClO
4
, HNO
3
, H
2
O
2
, H
2
SO
4
, etc.). Finally, the content of the
heavy metals (Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, As, Hg, etc.) is measured using such methods as ICP, ICP-MS, ICP-AES,
ICP-OES, CV-AAS, AAS, XFS or XRF, etc.

Table 2 The content of heavy metals in urban soils (mg/kg
-1
).
City/Country Cr Cu Pb Zn Ni Cd Reference
Beijing 35.60 23.70 28.60 65.60 27.80 0.15 Zheng et al., 2008
Guangzhou - 62.57 108.55 169.24 25.67 0.50 Lu et al., 2007
Shanghai 107.90 59.25 70.69 301.40 31.14 0.52 Shi et al., 2008
Changsha 121.00 51.40 89.40 276.00 - 6.90 Xi et al., 2008
Hong Kong 23.10 23.30 94.60 125.00 12.40 0.62 Li et al., 2004
Qingdao 54.00 55.00 62.00 201.00 17.30 0.30 Yao et al., 2008
Baoji 102.40 112.14 25380.55 1964.12 72.10 - Li and Huang, 2007
Luoyang 71.42 85.40 65.92 215.75 - 1.71 Lu et al., 2007
Wenzhou - 34.59 65.22 169.40 - - Chen et al., 2007
Nanjing 84.70 66.10 107.30 162.60 - - Lu et al., 2003
Cincinnati 37.00 26.00 41.00 60.00 19.00 - Turer et al., 2001
Syria 57.00 34.00 17.00 103.00 39.00 - Moller et al., 2005
France 42.08 20.06 43.14 43.14 14.47 0.53 Hernandez et al., 2003
Spain - 57.01 1505.45 596.09 - 3.76 Rodrguez et al., 2009
Iran 63.79 60.15 46.59 94.09 37.53 1.53 Sayadi and Rezaei,
2014
Turku, Finland
59.00 23.00 17.00 90.00 24.10 0.17 Salonen and
Korkka-Niemi, 2007
Range 23.10~121.00 20.06~112.14 17~25380.55 60.00~1964.12 12.40~72.10 0.15~6.90
Average 66.08 49.60 1733.94 289.78 29.14 1.52
Background 61.00 22.60 26.00 100.00 26.90 0.10 CEPA, 1990
Environ.capacity 200.00 100.00 300.00 250.00 50.00 0.30 CEPA, 1995
30
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
3.1 Contamination situation
The content of heavy metals in urban and agricultural soils worldwide is listed in Table 2 and 3 respectively. In
order to facilitate research and comparative analysis, environmental background values in the tables use the
standard values issued by Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection in 1990 (CEPA, 1990). The
maximum permissible concentrations of potential toxic metals, namely PTE-MPC, adopt the environment
capacity (CEPA, 1995).
Table 2 indicates the heavy metal content of soils in urban soils worldwide. We can find that the average
contents of Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn, Ni and Cd in urban soils are 66.08, 49.60, 1733.94, 289.78, 29.14, and 1.52 mg/kg,
respectively.

Table 3 The content of heavy metals in the agricultural soils (mg/kg
-1
).
City/Country Cr Cu Pb Zn Ni Cd Hg As Reference
Beijing 75.74 28.05 18.48 81.10 - 0.18 - - Liu et al., 2005
Guangzhou 64.65 24.00 58.00 162.60 - 0.28 0.73 10.90 Li et al., 2009
Yangzhou 77.20 33.90 35.70 98.10 38.50 0.30 0.20 10.20 Huang et al.,
2007
Wuxi 58.60 40.40 46.70 112.90 - 0.14 0.16 14.30 Zhao et al., 2007
Chengdu 59.50 42.52 77.27 227.00 - 0.36 0.31 11.27 Liu et al., 2006
Kunshan 87.73 34.27 30.48 105.93 31.08 0.20 0.20 8.15 Chen and Pu,
2007
Xuzhou - 35.28 56.20 149.68 - 2.57 - - Liu et al., 2006
Changde - - - - - - - 92.7 PSTV, 2014
Spain 63.48 107.65 213.93 427.80 34.75 1.42 - - Zimakowska-
Gnoinska et al.,
2000
America - 95.00 23.00 - 57.00 0.78 - - Han et al.., 2002
Korea - 2.98 5.25 4.78 - 0.12 0.05 0.78 Kim and Kim,
1999
Slovakia - 65.00 139.00 140.00 29.00 - - - Wilcke, 2005
USA 48.5 48 55 88.5 29 13.5 - - J ean-Philippe
etal., 2012
India 2.19 1.20 0.95 28.24 4.34 0.82 - - Raju et al., 2013
India 1.23 2.62 2.82 4.65 0.14 0.05 Prajapati and
Meravi, 2014
Iran 10.36 9.62 5.17 11.56 11.28 0.34 - - Sayyed and
Sayadi, 2011
Iran 11.15 - - - - - - - Zojaji et al.,
2014
Range 1.23~87.73 1.20~107.65 0.95~213.93 4.65~427.8 0.14~57.00 0.05~13.50 0.05~0.73 0.78~92.7
Average 46.69 38.03 51.19 117.35 26.12 1.50 0.28 21.19
Background 61 22.6 26 74.2 26.9 0.097 0.065 11.2 CEPA, 1995
Environ.
capacity
200 100 300 250 50 0.3 0.3 30 Zheng et al.,
2008

31
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
Table 3 shows the content of heavy metals in agricultural soils of various 11 regions. We can find that the
average content of heavy metals Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn, Ni, Cd, Hg, and As in agricultural soils are 46.69, 38.03, 51.19,
117.35, 26.12, 1.50, 0.28, 21.19 mg/kg, respectively.
It is obvious that the average content of heavy metals Cr, Cu, Pb, Zn, Ni, and Cd in urban soils is higher
than that in agricultural soils.

3.2 Further analysis
The level of heavy metal contamination in the soil is analyzed and determined by geoaccumulation index (I
geo
),
which was established by Muller (1969). This method began to be widely used in the late 1960s (Muller, 1969).
I
geo
is obtained by comparing the contamination levels before contamination and present contamination. The
computation of I
geo
is: I
geo
=log
2
(C
n
/ 1.5B
n
), where C
n
is the measured mass fraction of the metal (mg/kg
-1
). B
n

is the background mass fraction of the metal (mg/kg
-1
). Here we use the CEPA environmental background
values (Wang et al., 2007) to calculate I
geo
. Muller's evaluation method (Muller, 1969) can be used to evaluate
the level of heavy metal contamination in soils, as shown in Table 4.


Table 4 Classification of geoaccumulation index.
Geoaccumulation index Classification Level of contamination
5I
geo
10 6 Extremely serious
4I
geo
5 5 Strong to extremely serious
3I
geo
4 4 Strong
2I
geo
3 3 Moderate to strong
1I
geo
2 2 Moderate
0I
geo
1 1 Light to moderate
I
geo
0 0 Non contamination


3.2.1 Analysis of heavy metal contamination in urban soils
We can find from Table 5, that heavy metal contamination in Luoyang, Baoji and Spain is more serious; Pb
contamination in Baoji and Spain is very serious. In addition, Cd contamination in Changsha is extremely
serious. However in exception of Cd, soils worldwide show no contamination, and even the Cd contamination
is moderate to strong. In addition, the contents of Pb and Cd indicate a light contamination.

Table 5 Heavy metal contamination in urban soils (I
geo
).
City/Country Cr Cu Pb Zn Ni Cd
Beijing -1.36 -0.52 -0.45 -1.19 -0.54 0.04
Guangzhou 0.88 1.48 0.17 -0.65 1.78
Shanghai 0.24 0.81 0.86 1.01 -0.37 1.84
Changsha 0.40 0.60 1.20 0.88 5.57
Hong Kong -1.99 -0.54 1.28 -0.26 -1.70 2.09
Qingdao -0.76 0.70 0.67 0.42 -1.22 1.04
Baoji 0.16 1.73 9.35 3.71 0.84
Luoyang -0.36 1.33 0.76 0.52 3.55
Wenzhou 0.03 0.74 0.18
32
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
Nanjing -0.11 0.96 1.46 0.12
Cincinnati -1.31 -0.38 0.07 -1.32 -1.09
Syria -0.68 0.00 -1.20 -0.54 -0.05
France -1.12 -0.76 0.15 -1.80 -1.48 1.86
Spain 0.75 5.27 1.99 4.69
Turku, Finland
-0.63 -0.56 -1.20 -0.74 -0.74 0.22


3.2.2 Analysis of heavy metal contamination in agricultural soils
Table 6 shows that South Korea's agricultural soils are almost not polluted by heavy metals, and the Cd
contamination in Spain, the United States and Xuzhou is more serious. Heavy metal contamination in the
agricultural soils of Wuxi and Chengdu is relatively serious than other cities. Hg contamination in Guangzhou
and Chengdu are relatively serious. Worldwide speaking, the contents of Cu and Hg in most of agricultural
soils reach light contamination, which is different from the Pb and Cd in cities soil.


Table 6 Heavy metal contamination in agricultural soils (I
geo
).
City/Country Cr Cu Pb Zn Ni Cd Hg As
Beijing -0.27 -0.27 -1.08 -0.46 0.31
Guangzhou -0.50 -0.50 0.57 0.55 0.94 2.90 -0.62
Yangzhou -0.25 0.00 -0.13 -0.18 -0.07 1.04 1.04 -0.72
Wuxi -0.64 0.25 0.26 0.02 -0.06 0.71 -0.23
Chengdu -0.62 0.33 0.99 1.03 1.31 1.67 -0.58
Kunshan -0.06 0.02 -0.36 -0.07 -0.38 0.46 1.04 -1.04
Xuzhou 0.06 0.53 0.43 4.14
Spain -0.53 1.67 2.46 1.94 -0.22 3.29
America 1.49 -0.76 0.50 2.42
Korea -3.51 -2.89 -4.54 -0.30 -1.12 -4.43
Slovakia 0.94 1.83 0.33 -0.48


4 Remediation of Heavy Metal Contaminated Soils
4.1 Engineering remediation
Engineering remediation refers to using physical or chemical methods to control heavy metal contamination of
soils.
4.1.1 Replacement of contaminated soil, soil removal and soil isolation
Replacement of contaminated soil means adding large amount of clean soil to cover on the surface of the
contaminated soil or to blend with the latter. Soil removal refers to remove the contaminated soil and renew it
with the clean soil, which is necessary for the seriously contaminated soil with little area. Soil isolation means
that to isolate the contaminated soil from the uncontaminated soil, but to completely remedy it still needs other
auxiliary engineering measures (Zheng et al., 2002). All of these methods will cost large amount of manpower
and material resources, so they can only be applied to small area of soils.
4.1.2 Electrokinetic remediation
Soil electrokinetic remediation is a new economically effective technology. The principle is that the
33
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
DC-voltage is applied to form the electric field gradient on both sides of the electrolytic tank which contains
the contaminated soil; contaminants in the soil is taken to the processing chamber, which is located at the two
polar sides of electrolytic cell, through the way of electro-migration, electric seepage or electrophoresis, and
thus reduce the contamination. The method performs well in the soil with low permeability (Hanson et al.,
1992).
4.1.3 Soil leaching
The principle of soil leaching is to wash the heavy metal contaminated soil with specific reagents and thus
remove the heavy metal complex and soluble irons adsorbed on the solid phase particles. By using this method,
heavy metals are separated from the soil, and heavy metals are then recycled from extracting solution.
4.1.4 Adsorption
Adsorption method is based on the fact that almost all heavy metal ions can be fixed and adsorbed by clay
mineral (bentonite, zeolite, etc.), asteel slag, furnace slag, etc (Wang and Zhou, 2004).
4.1.5 Other methods
Other engineering methods include washing and compounding, heat treatment, physical solidification,
chemical improvers, chemical curing lamp remediation, etc.
4.2 Bioremediation
4.2.1 Phytoremediation
Grow specific plants in the soil contaminated by heavy metals. These plants have the certain
hyper-accumulation ability for the contaminants in the soil (accumulated mainly in the root or above the root).
When the plants are ripe or reach certain enrichment level of heavy metals, remove heavy metals in the
contaminated soil layer thoroughly by harvesting, burning and curing plants. Using plants and their coexisting
microbial system to remove heavy metals is a new technology. The key of the method is to find the suitable
plants with strong ability for heavy metal accumulation and tolerance. Now more than 400 species of such
plants have been found in the world, and most of them belong to Cruciferae, including the genus Brassica,
Alyssums, and Thlaspi (Xing et al., 2003).
4.2.2 Microbial remediation
Microbial remediation refers to using some microorganisms to perform the absorption, precipitation, oxidation
and reduction of heavy metals in the soil. Siegel et al. (1986) found that fungi could secrete amino acids,
organic acids and other metabolites to dissolve heavy metals and the mineral containing heavy metals. Fred et
al. (2001) reported that the fungi, Gomus intraradices, may improve the tolerance and absorption of sunflower
to Cr.
Cultivating microorganisms that have degradation capacity on heavy metals by using biotechnology
(genetics, genetic engineering, etc.) are one of the current focuses in this area.
4.2.3 Animal remediation
Some animals living in the soil (maggots, earthworms, etc.) can take heavy metals in the soil. Wang et al.
(2007) proved that when the concentration of Cu was low in the soil, the activities and secretion of earthworms
could promote the absorption of Cu by ryegrass.


Acknowledgment
The authors Chao Su and WenJ un Zhang contributed the same to the present article, and both of them are first
authors. We are thankful to the support of the project, Studies on Measuring Methods of Permissible Limits of
Toxic Heavy Metals in Apple Orchards of China (2012.1-2014.12), from Yangling Institute of Modern
Agricultural Standardization, China.
34
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
References
Acar YB, Alshawabkeh AN. 1993. Principles of electrokinetic remediation. Environmental Science and
Technology, 27(13): 2638-2647
Aceves MB, Grace C, Ansorena J , et al. 1999. Soil microbial biomass and organic C in a gradient of zinc
concentration in soils around a mine spoil tip. Soil Biology and Biochemisty, 31(6): 867-876
Aeliona CM, Davisa HT, McDermottb S. 2008. Metal concentrations in rural topsoil in South Carolina:
potential for human health impact. Science of the Total Environment, 402: 149-156
Arao T, Ishikawa S, Murakam IM, et al. 2010. Heavy metal contamination of agricultural soil and counter
measures in Japan. Paddy and Water Environment, 8(3): 247-257
Baath E, Frostegard A, Diaz-Ravina M, et al. 1998. Effect of metal-rich sludge amendments on the soil
microbial community. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 64: 238-245
Babula P, Adam V, et al. 2008. Uncommon heavy metals, metalloids and their plant toxicity: A review.
Environmental Chemical Letter, 6: 189-213
Boyd RS. 2010. Heavy metal pollutants and chemical ecology: Exploring new frontiers. Journal of Chemical
Ecology, 36: 46-58
CEPA (Chinese Environmental Protection Administration). 1990. Elemental Background Values of Soils in
China. Environmental Science Press of China, Beijing, China
CEPA (Chinese Environmental Protection Administration). 1995. Environmental Quality Standard for Soils
(GB15618-1995). Environmental Science Press of China, Beijing, China
Chander K, Brookes PC, Harding SA. 1995. Microbial biomass dynamics following addition of metal-enriched
sewage sludge to a sandy loam. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 27(11): 1409-1421
Chen F, Pu L. 2007. Relationship between heavy metals and basic properties of agricultural soils in Kunshan
County. Soils, 39: 291-296
Chen HM. 2002. Behaviors and Environmental Quality of Chemical Substances in the Soil. Science Press,
Beijing, China
Chen HM, Zhou J , et al. 2007. Concentration and chemical peciation of Cu, Zn, Pb in Wenzhou urban soils.
J ournal of Soil and Water Conservation, 21: 75-78
Chen YF. 2011. Review of the research on heavy metal contamination of Chinas city soil and its treatment
method. China Population, Resources and Environment, 2011, 21(3): 536-539
Ding Y. 2000. The management of polluted soils by heavy metal. Environment and Development, 15(2): 25-28
Falahiardakani A. 1984. Contamination of environment with heavy metals emitted from automotives.
Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 8: 152-161
Fliepbach A, Martens R, Reber H. 1994. Soil microbial biomass and activity in soils treated with heavy metal
contaminated sewage sludge. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 26: 1201-1205
Fred T, Davies J , J effrey DP, et al. 2001. My-corrhizal fungi enhance accumulation and tolerance of chromium
in sunflower (Helianthus annuus). J ournal of Plant Physiology, 158: 777-786
Han FX, Banin A, et al. 2002. Industrial age anthropogenic inputs of heavy metals into the pedosphere.
Naturwissenschaften, 89(11): 497-504
Hanson A, David T, Sabatin A. 1992. Transport and Remediation of Subsurface Contaminants. 108-120,
American Chemical Society, Washington DC, USA
Hernandez, L, Probst A, Probst J L, et al. 2003. Heavy metal distribution in some French forest soils: Evidence
for atmospheric contamination. Science of The Total Environment, 312(1-3): 195-219
Huang SS, Liao QL, Hua M,et al. 2007. Survey of heavy metal contamination and assessment of agricultural
soils in Yangzhong district, J iangsu Province, China. Chemosphere, 67: 2148-2155
J ean-Philippe SR. Labb N, Franklin J A, et al. 2012. Detection of mercury and other metals in mercury
35
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
contaminated soils using mid-infrared spectroscopy. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology
and Environmental Sciences, 2(3): 139-149
Kale H. 1993. Response of roots of trees to heavy metals. Environmental and Experimental Botany, 33:
99-119
Kandeler E, Lurienegger G, Schwarz S. 1997. Influence of heavy metals on the functional diversity of soil
microbial communities. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 23: 299-306
Kim KH, Kim SH. 1999. Heavy metal contamination of agricultural soils in central regions of Korea. Water
Air and Soil Contamination,111: 109-122
Lee DH, Zo YG, Kim SJ 1996. Nonradioactive methods to study genetic Profies of natural bacterial
communities by PCR-single-strand-conformation polymorphism. Applied and Environmental
Microbiology, 62(9): 3112-3120
Li J H, Lu Y, Yin W, et al. 2009. Distribution of heavy metals in agricultural soils near a petrochemical
complex in Guangzhou, China. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 153: 365-375
Li X, Lee S, Wong S, et al. 2004. The study of metal contamination in urban soils of Hongkong using a
GIS-based approach. Environmental Pollution, 129: 113-124
Li X, Huang C. 2007. Environment impact of heavy metals on urban soils in the vicinity of industrial area of
Baoji city, P.R. China. Environmental Geology, 52: 1631-1637
Lin ZY. 1998. The source and fate of Pb in central Sweden. Science of the Total Environment, 209(1): 47-58
Liu CP, Shang YN, Yin G. 2006. Primary study on heavy metals pollution in farm soil of Chengdu city.
Guangdong Trace Elements Science, 13: 41-45
Liu H, Han B, Hao D. 2006. Evaluation to heavy metals pollution in agricultural soils in northern suburb of
Xuzhou City. Chinese Journal of Eco-Agriculture,14: 159-161
Liu WH, Zhao J Z, Ouyang ZY, et al. 2005. Impacts of sewage irrigation on heavy metal distribution and
contamination in Beijing, China. Environment International, 31: 805-812
Lu S, Bai S,Xue Q. 2007. Magnetic properties as indicators of heavy metals pollution in urban topsoils: a case
study from the city of Luoyang, China. Geophysical J ournal International, 171: 568-580
Lu Y, Gong Z, Zhang G, et al. 2003. Concentrations and chemical speciations of Cu, Zn, Pb and Cr of urban
soils in Nanjing, China. Geoderma, 115: 101-111
Lu Y, Zhu F, Chen J , et al. 2007. Chemical fractionation of heavy metals in urban soils of Guangzhou, China.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 134: 429-439
Meshalkina TL. 1996. Spatial variability of soil contamination around a sulphwreous acid producing factory in
Russia. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 92(3/4): 289-313
Moller A, Mller HW, Abdullah A, et al. 2005. Urban soil contamination in Damascus, Syria: concentrations
and patterns of heavy metals in the soils of the Damascus Ghouta. Geoderma, 124(1-2): 63-71
Montagne D, Cornu S, Bourennane H. 2007. Effect agricultural practices on trace-element distribution in soil.
Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 38: 473-491
Muller G. 1969. Index of geoaccumulation in sediments of the Rhine River. Geojournal, 2(3): 108-118
Nriagu J O, Pacyna J M. 1988. Quantitative assessment of world-wide contamination of air, water and soils by
trace metals. Nature, 333: 134-139
Phoenix Satellite TV. 2014. Poisoned District: A survey to Arsenic Pollution in Shimen. She Hui Nen J ian Du
(10:00 pm- 10:30 pm). http://v.ifeng.com/documentary/society/2014004/031f8d54-996c-4846-9418-
e21d8a2495ec.shtml#_v_www6. Accessed Apr 24, 2014
Prajapati SK, Meravi N. 2014. Heavy metal speciation of soil and Calotropis procera from thermal power plant
area. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 4(2): 68-71
36
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
Qin TC, Wu YS, Wang HX. 1994. Effect of cadmium, lead and their interactions on the physiological and
biochemical characteristics of Brassica chinensis. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 14(1): 46-49
Qin YS, Zhao J , Liu ZQ, et al. 2008. Study on the influences of combined pollution of heavy metals Cu and Pb
on soil respiration. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences, 36(3): 1117-1128
Raju KV, Somashekar RK, Prakash KL. 2013. Spatio-temporal variation of heavy metals in Cauvery River
basin. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 3(1): 59-75
Robert L, J ones PD. 2009. Blood lead levels and blood lead the change tendency of the test in the United
States from 1998 to 2004. Pediatrics, 4(8): 502-514
Rodrguez L, Ruiz E, Alonso-Azcrate J , et al. 2009. Heavy metal distribution and chemical speciation in
tailings and soils around a PbZn mine in Spain. J ournal of Environmental Management, 90(2): 1106-1116
SalonenVP, Korkka-Niemi K. 2007. Influence of parent sediments on the concentration of heavy metals in
urban and suburban soils in Turku, Finland. Applied Geochemistry, 22(5): 906-918
Satarug S, Baker J R, Urbenjapol S. 2003. A global perspective on cadmium pollution and toxicity in
non-occupationally exposed population. Toxicology Letters, 137: 65-83
Sayadi MH, Rezaei MR. 2014. Impact of land use on the distribution of toxic metals in surface soils in Birjand
city, Iran. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 4(1): 18-29
Sayyed MRG, Sayadi MH. 2011. Variations in the heavy metal accumulations within the surface soils from the
Chitgar industrial area of Tehran. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental
Sciences, 1(1): 36-46
Shi G, et al. 2008. Potentially toxic metal contamination of urban soils and roadside dust in Shanghai, China.
Environmental Pollution, 156: 251-260
Shi WU, et al. Progress in the remediation of hazardous heavy metal-polluted soils by natural zeolite.Journal
of Hazardous Materials, 2009, 170:1-6
Siegel SM, Keller P, et al. 1986. Metal Speciation. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Chicago , USA
Turer D, et al. 2001. Heavy metal contamination in soils of urban highways: comparison between runoff and
soil concentrations at Cincinnati, Ohio. Water air and Soil contamination, 132: 293-314
Wang DD, Li HX, Hu FG, et al. 2007. Role of earthworm-straw interactions on phytoremediation of Cu
contaminated soil by ryegrass. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 27(4): 1292-1299
Wang X, Zhou QX. 2004. The ecological process, effect and remediation of heavy metals contaminated soil.
Ecologic Science, 23(3): 278-281
Wilcke W, Krauss M, et al. 2005. Concentrations and forms of heavy metals in Slovak soils. Journal of Plant
Nutrition and Soil Science, 168(5): 676-686
Wood J M. 1974. Biological cycles for toxic elements in the environment. Science, 183: 1049-1052
Xi C, Dai T, Huang D. 2008. Investigation and assessment on pollution caused by soil heavy metals in
Changsha city, Hunan Province. Earth and Environment, 36: 136-141
Xin QG, Pan WB, Zhang TP. 2003. On phytoremediation of heavy metal contaminated soils. Ecologic Science,
22(3): 275-279
Yabe J , Ishizuka M, et al. 2010. Current Levels of Heavy metal contamination in Africa. J ournal of Veterinary
Medical Science, 72(10): 1257-1263
Yang YB, Sun LB. 2009. Status and control countermea sure s of heavy metal pollution in urban soil.
Environmental Pprotection Science, 35(4): 79-81
Yao D, Sun M, et al. 2008. Environmental geochemistry of heavy metals in urban soils of Qingdao city, China.
Geology in China, 35: 539-550
Zhang H. 1997. Chromium contamination in the soil from an alloy steel factory in Nanjing. China
37
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 24-38
IAEES www.iaees.org
Environmental Science, 17(2): 80-82
Zhang WJ , J iang FB, Ou J F. 2011. Global pesticide consumption and pollution: with China as a focus.
Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 1(2): 125-144
Zhang WJ , Zhang XY. 2007. A forecast analysis on fertilizers consumption worldwide. Environmental
Monitoring and Assessment, 133: 427-434
Zhang ZJ , Lu QF, Fang F. 1989. Effect of mecury on the growth and physiological function of wheat seedlings.
Chinese J ournal of Environmental Science, 10(4): l0-13
Zheng XS, LU AH, Gao X, et al. 2002. Contamination of heavy metals in soil present situation and method..
Soils and Environmental Sciences, 11(l): 79-54
Zheng Y, Chen T, He J . 2008. Multivariate geostatistical analysis of heavy metals in top soils from
Beijing,China. J ournal of Soils Sediments, 8: 51-58
Zhao Y, Shi X, et al. 2007. Spatial distribution of heavy metals in agricultural soils of an industry-based
peri-urban area in Wuxi, China. Pedosphere, 17: 44-51
Zhou QX. 1995. Ecology of Compound Pollution. China Environmental Science Press, Beijing, China
Zimakowska-Gnoinska D, Bech J , Tobias FJ . 2000. Assessment of the heavy metal contamination effects on
the soil respiration in the Baix Llobregat (Catalonia, NE Spain). Environmental Monitoring and
Assessment, 61: 301313
Zojaji F, Hassani AH, Sayadi MH. 2014. Bioaccumulation of chromium by Zea mays in wastewater-irrigated
soil: An experimental study. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental
Sciences, 4(2): 62-67
38
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
Article

Can we trace biotic dispersals back in time? Introducing backward
flow connectivity

Alessandro Ferrarini
Department of Evolutionary and Functional Biology, University of Parma, Via G. Saragat 4, I- 43100 Parma, Italy
E-mail: sgtpm@libero.it,alessandro.ferrarini@unipr.it

Received 5 February 2014; Accepted 10 March 2014; Published online 1 June 2014


Abstract
Connectivity in ecology deals with the problem of how species dispersal will happen given actual landscape
and species presence/absence over such landscape. Hence it can be considered a forward (ahead in time)
scientific problem. I observe here that a backward theory of connectivity could be of deep interest as well:
given the actual species presence/absence on the landscape, where with the highest probability such species is
coming from? In other words, can we trace biotic dispersals back in time? Recently I have introduced a
modelling and theoretical approach to ecological connectivity that is alternative to circuit theory and is able to
fix the weak point of the from-to connectivity approach. The proposed approach holds also for mountain and
hilly landscapes. In addition, it doesnt assume any intention for a species to go from source points to sink ones,
because the expected path for the species is determined locally (pixel by pixel) by landscape features. In this
paper, I introduce a new theoretical and modelling approach called backward flow connectivity. While flow
connectivity predicts future species dispersal by minimizing at each step the potential energy due to fictional
gravity over a frictional landscape, backward flow connectivity does exactly the opposite, i.e. maximizes
potential energy at each step sending back the species to higher levels of potential energy due to fictional
gravity on the frictional landscape. Using backward flow connectivity, one has at hand a new tool to revert
timeline of species dispersal, hence being able to trace backward biotic dispersals. With few modifications, the
applications of backward flow connectivity can be countless, for instance tracing back-in-time not only plants
and animals but also ancient human migrations and viral paths.

Keywords backward simulation; biotic flows; dynamical GIS simulation; flow connectivity; gene flow;
human migrations; partial differential equations; past dynamics; viral paths.








1 Introduction
Predicting ecological connectivity across landscape is pivotal for understanding a large number of ecological
processes, for environmental management aims (such as preserving plant and animal populations), for
EnvironmentalSkepticsandCritics
ISSN22244263
URL:http://www.iaees.org/publications/journals/environsc/onlineversion.asp
RSS:http://www.iaees.org/publications/journals/environsc/rss.xml
Email:environsc@iaees.org
EditorinChief:WenJunZhang
Publisher:InternationalAcademyofEcologyandEnvironmentalSciences
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
predicting infectious disease spread and for conserving biodiversity (Crooks et al., 2006; McRae, 2007). Hence,
there is a demand for reliable models that relate landscape composition and pattern to connectivity of
ecological processes and biotic dispersals.
Understanding broad-scale ecological processes that depend on connectivity and incorporating such
connectivity into conservation planning needs to assess how connectivity is affected by environmental features
(McRae et al., 2008; Shah and McRae, 2008). Recently, concepts and algorithms from electrical circuit theory
have been adjusted for these purposes (McRae, 2006; McRae et al., 2008). In circuit theory, landscapes are
represented as conductive surfaces, with resistance proportional to the easiness of species dispersal or gene
flow. Low resistances are assigned to habitats that are most permeable to movement or best boost gene flow,
and high resistances are given to poor dispersal habitat or to barriers. Effective resistances, current densities,
and voltages calculated across the landscapes can then be related to ecological processes (McRae et al., 2008).
Circuit theory offers several advantages, including a theoretical basis in random walk theory and the ability to
evaluate contributions of multiple dispersal pathways. For example, effective resistances calculated across
landscapes have been shown to markedly improve predictions of gene flow for plant and animal species
(McRae, 2007). More details can be found in McRae (2006), McRae (2007) and McRae et al. (2008).
Recently, I have introduced a modelling approach to ecological connectivity assessment that is alternative
to circuit theory and is able to fix the weak point of the from-to connectivity approach (Ferrarini, 2013a).
The proposed approach holds also for mountain and hilly landscapes. In addition, it doesnt assume any
intention for a species to go from source points to sink ones, because the expected path for the species is
determined locally (pixel by pixel) by landscape features. Ive called this approach flow connectivity since it
resembles in some way the motion characteristic of fluids over a surface. In addition, in a recent paper
(Ferrarini, 2014a) I have proposed an advance to flow connectivity, named reverse flow connectivity, that is
able to assign realistic resistance (frictional) values to landscape categories. Thanks to the conceptual and
operative framework proposed in that paper the subjectivity in ecological connectivity is minimized.
In this paper, I face another important topic for the comprehension of biotic dispersals: given the actual
species presence/absence on the landscape, where with the highest probability such species is coming from? In
other words, can we trace biotic dispersals back in time? To this aim, I introduce a new theoretical and
modelling approach called backward flow connectivity.
Using backward flow connectivity, I show here that one has at hand a new tool to revert timeline of species
dispersal, hence being able to trace backward biotic dispersals. Besides species dispersals, the applications of
backward flow connectivity are countless, for instance tracing back-in-time not only plants and animals but
also ancient human migrations and viral paths.

2 Backward Flow Connectivity: Mathematical Formulation
Let ( , , , ) L x y z t be a real 3D landscape at generic time t, where [1,..., ] L n e . In other words, L is a generic
(categorical) landcover or land-use map with n classes. At time T
0,

0 0
( , , , ) L L x y z t = (1)
Let ( ) L be the landscape friction (i.e. how much each land parcel is unfavourable) to the species under
study. In other words, ( ) L is a function that associates a friction value to each pixel of L. At time T
0
,
0 0
( ) L = (2)
Let ( , , ( ))
s
L x y L be a landscape where, for each pixel, the z-value is equal to the friction for the species
under study. In other words, L
s
is a 3D fictional landscape with the same coordinates and geographic
projection as L, but with pixel-by-pixel friction values in place of real z-values. Higher elevations represents
40
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
areas with elevated friction to the species due to whatever reason (unsuitable landcover, human disturbance
etc), while lower altitudes represent the opposite. Barriers (structural or functional) can be simulated using
very elevated friction values. True-to-life coefficients for landscape friction can be calculated as in Ferrarini
(2014a), where I defined P as the predicted path for the species over the fictional landscape L
s
, and P
*
the real
path followed by the species as detected by GPS data-loggers or in situ observations. The prediction bias B
between P and P* is hence calculated as
*
mod( ) B Pdx P dx =
} }
(3)
where the function mod indicates the module of the difference. Hence:
* *
* *
where >

where >
Pdx P dx P P
B
P dx Pdx P P

} }
} }
(4)
Now, true-to-life coefficients for landscape friction can be calculated by optimizing , as:
set B to 0 (5)
or, at least,
minimize B (6)
The optimization of ( ) L can be properly achieved using genetic algorithms (GAs; Holland 1975). GAs are
powerful evolutionary models with wide potential applications in ecology and biology, such as optimization of
protected areas (Ferrarini et al.,

2008; Parolo et al., 2009), optimal sampling (Ferrarini, 2012a; Ferrarini,
2012b), optimal detection of landscape units (Rossi et al., 2014) and networks control (Ferrarini, 2011a;
Ferrarini, 2013b; Ferrarini, 2013c; Ferrarini, 2013d; Ferrarini, 2013e; Ferrarini, 2014b). At time T
0
,
0 0
( , , ( ))
s s
L L x y L =
(7)
Let ( , , ) S x y t be a binary landscape (of which S
xyt
represents the value of the generic pixel at time t) with
the same coordinates and geographic projection as L
s
and L, but with binary values at each pixel representing
species presence/absence at generic time t. At time T
0
,
0 0
( , , ) S S x y t = (8)
Now I define the backward flow over the fictional landscape L
s
as follows

( , , )
div
t
S x y t S S
S S
t x y
o o o
o o o

= = V = + (9)
with initial conditions
0
S at time T
0,
where t indicates that time is going backward.
I further define I
x
and I
y
as two intervals around the generic pixel <x,y>so that
[ , ]
x
I x x x x = c + c
(10)
and
[ , ]
y
I y y y y = c + c
41
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
(11)
Now, I define here the back-in-time biotic flow as:
0 1 0
( 0 0)
( 1 1)
1 0 1
xyt x
xyt x
xyt x
xyt x
if S and I
or S and I
S
or S and I
x
if S and I
o
o

= =

= =

= = =

= =

(12)
and
0 1 0
( 0 0)
( 1 1)
1 0 1
xyt y
xyt y
xyt y
xyt y
if S and I
or S and I
S
or S and I
y
if S and I
o
o

= =

= =

= = =

= =

(13)
where
-
- -
- -
0 ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
( ( ) ( ) 0)
( ( ) ( ) 0)
1 ( ) ( ) 1
( ( ) ( )
x x x x x x
x x x x x
x x x x x
x
x x x x x
x x x x x
if L L and L L
or L L and S
or L L and S
I
if L L and S
or L L and S





c +c
c c
+c +c

c c
+c +c
< <
> =
> =
=
> =
> 1)

(14)
and
-
- -
- -
0 ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
( ( ) ( ) 0)
( ( ) ( ) 0)
1 ( ) ( ) 1
( ( ) ( )
y y y y y y
y y y y y
y y y y y
y
y y y y y
y y y y y
if L L and L L
or L L and S
or L L and S
I
if L L and S
or L L and S





c +c
c c
+c +c

c c
+c +c
< <
> =
> =
=
> =
> 1)

(15)
Hence, I obtain that
42
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
0 0
1 ( 1 0)
( 0 1)
1
S S
if
x y
S S S
if and
t x y
S S
or and
x y
S S
or
x y
o o
o o
o o o
o o o
o o
o o
o o
o o

= =

= = =

= =

= =

(16)


While flow connectivity predicts future species dispersal by minimizing at each step the potential energy due
to fictional gravity over a frictional landscape, backward flow connectivity does exactly the opposite, i.e.
maximizes potential energy at each step sending back the species to higher levels of potential energy due to
fictional gravity on the frictional landscape.
In order to apply equations from (1) to (16), I wrote the ad hoc software Connectivity Lab (Ferrarini,
2013f).

3 An Applicative Example
The Ceno valley is a 35,038 ha wide valley situated in the Province of Parma, Northern Italy. It has been
mapped at 1:25,000 scale (Ferrarini, 2005; Ferrarini et al., 2010) using the CORINE Biotopes classification
system. The landscape structure of the Ceno Valley has been widely analysed (Ferrarini and Tomaselli, 2010;
Ferrarini, 2011b; Ferrarini 2012c; Ferrarini, 2012d).
From an ecological viewpoint, the most interesting event registered in the last years is the shift of wolf
populations from the montane belt to the lowland. Several populations have been recently observed in situ by
life-watchers, environmental associations and local administrations. For the sake of simplicity, I applied my
backward model to a portion of the Ceno valley (Fig. 1) above 1000 m a.s.l. close to the municipality of Bardi
where several small populations of wolves have been recently observed.
The area is a square of about 20 km * 20 km. Friction values ( ) L to wolf presence are borrowed from
Ferrarini (2012c) in the form of friction coefficients assigned to every land cover classes. A discussion of
wolfs frictional coefficients is outside the goals of this paper, so I avoid presenting them. The application of
the backward flow-connectivity model provides the results of Fig. 2. Red scattered lines represent the expected
back-in-time dispersal paths P
i
of Canis lupus populations from simulated actual presences (black points;
S
0
=1). Almost all the expected backward paths are directed toward North, i.e. toward the higher part of the
valley. This is in agreement with recent observations of wolf (forward) shifts toward the lowland.

43
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org

Fig. 1 The fictional landscape Ls has been built for wolf upon a portion of the Ceno Valley (province of Parma, Italy) that
represents here the real landscape L(x,y,z,t). The elevation represents for each pixel the landscape friction ( ) L for the species
under study: the higher the elevation, the higher the friction to the species. Black points represent sites where the species is
simulated to be present at time T
0
(S
0
=1).



Fig. 2 Predicted backward dispersal paths of Canis lupus are depicted using red scattered lines. Each line represents a predicted
back-in-time biotic path from actual presences (black points; S
0
=1).
44
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
In situ GPS efforts to detect paths followed by wolf populations and to compare them with results of
backward flow connectivity modelling have been already planned.
Attention should be paid to a possible weak point of backward flow connectivity: it relies on the hypothesis
that landscape has not changed, or at least only slightly, in the past. Hence, it can be successfully applied to
brief or mid-term periods (weeks or months) in the past, or to landscapes that have a strong inertia. For
instance, hill and mountain landscapes change very slowly (in the order of years or decades) because they
follow natural dynamics instead of human ones. As opposite, lowland landscapes have very fast dynamics
(Ferrarini et al., 2000; Ferrarini et al., 2003; Rossi et al., 2003). In the latter case, backward flow connectivity
should be applied to predict only recent species dispersals.

4 Conclusions
Modelling ecological connectivity across landscapes is necessary for understanding a large number of
ecological and biological processes, and for preserving plant and animal populations, predicting infective
disease spread and conserving biodiversity.
In this paper, I have faced another important topic for the comprehension of biotic dispersals: can we trace
biotic dispersals back in time? To this aim, I have introduced a new theoretical and modelling approach called
backward flow connectivity. While flow connectivity predicts future species dispersal by minimizing at each
step the potential energy due to fictional gravity over a frictional landscape, backward flow connectivity does
exactly the opposite, i.e. maximizes potential energy at each step sending back the species to higher levels of
potential energy due to fictional gravity on the frictional landscape.
Using backward flow connectivity, I have showed here that one has at hand a new tool to revert timeline of
species dispersal, hence being able to trace backward biotic dispersals. With few modifications, the
applications of backward flow connectivity can be countless, for instance tracing back-in-time not only plants
and animals but also ancient human migrations and viral paths.


References
Crooks KR, Sanjayan M (eds). 2006. Connectivity Conservation. Cambridge University Press, UK
Ferrarini A, Zaccarelli N, Rossi P, et al. 2000. Change detection degli habitat CORINE nel bacino del Torrente
Baganza (Prov. Parma) tramite lindice NDVI. Italian J ournal of Remote Sensing, 19: 29-35
Ferrarini A, Rossi P, Rossi O. 2003. Analisi dellevoluzione del paesaggio mediante lapproccio geostatistico
ai dati telerilevati: il bacino del torrente Baganza (Parma). Biologia Ambientale, 17: 67-76
Ferrarini A. 2005. Analisi e valutazioni spazio-temporale mediante GIS e Telerilevamento del grado di
Pressione Antropica attuale e potenziale gravante sul mosaico degli habitat di alcune aree italiane. Ipotesi
di pianificazione. Ph.D. Thesis, Universit degli Studi di Parma, Parma, Italy
Ferrarini A, Rossi G, Parolo G, Ferloni M.

2008. Planning low-impact tourist paths within a Site of
Community Importance through the optimisation of biological and logistic criteria. Biological
Conservation, 141:1067-1077
Ferrarini A, Bollini A, Sammut E. 2010. Digital Strategies and Solutions for the Remote Rural Areas
Development. Acts of Annual MeCCSA Conference, London School of Economics, London, UK
Ferrarini A, Tomaselli M. 2010. A new approach to the analysis of adjacencies: Potentials for landscape
insights. Ecological Modelling, 221: 1889-1896
Ferrarini A. 2011a. Some thoughts on the controllability of network systems. Network Biology, 1(3-4): 186-
188
45
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2014, 3(2): 39-46
IAEES www.iaees.org
Ferrarini A. 2011b. Network graphs unveil landscape structure and change. Network Biology, 1(2): 121-126
Ferrarini A. 2012a. Biodiversity optimal sampling: an algorithmic solution. Proceedings of the International
Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2(1): 50-52
Ferrarini A. 2012b. Betterments to biodiversity optimal sampling. Proceedings of the International Academy
of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2(4): 246-250
Ferrarini A. 2012c. Founding RGB Ecology: the Ecology of Synthesis. Proceedings of the International
Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2(2):84-89
Ferrarini A. 2012d. Landscape structural modeling. A multivariate cartographic exegesis. In: Ecological
Modeling (Zhang WJ , ed). 325-334, Nova Science Publishers Inc, New York, USA
Ferrarini A. 2012e. The ecological network of the province of Parma. Province of Parma, Parma, Italy, 124
pages (in Italian)
Ferrarini A. 2013a. A criticism of connectivity in ecology and an alternative modelling approach: Flow
connectivity. Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2(4): 118-125
Ferrarini A. 2013b. Controlling ecological and biological networks via evolutionary modelling. Network
Biology, 3(3): 97-105
Ferrarini A. 2013c. Computing the uncertainty associated with the control of ecological and biological systems.
Computational Ecology and Software, 3(3): 74-80
Ferrarini A. 2013d. Exogenous control of biological and ecological systems through evolutionary modelling.
Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 3(3): 257-265
Ferrarini A. 2013e. Networks control: Introducing the degree of success and feasibility. Network Biology, 3(4):
127-132
Ferrarini A. 2013f. Connectivity-Lab 2.0: a software for applying connectivity-flow modelling. Manual, 104
pages (in Italian)
Ferrarini A. 2014a. True-to-life friction values in connectivity ecology: Introducing reverse flow connectivity.
Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 3(1): 17-23
Ferrarini A. 2014b. Local and global control of ecological and biological networks. Network Biology, 4(1):
21-30
Holland J .H. 1975. Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems: An Introductory Analysis with Applications
to Biology, Control and Artificial Intelligence. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, USA McRae B.H.
2006. Isolation by resistance. Evolution, 60: 1551-1561
McRae BH, Beier P. 2007. Circuit theory predicts gene flow in plant and animal populations. Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 104: 19885-19890
McRae BH, Dickson BG, Keitt TH, Shah V.B. 2008. Using circuit theory to model connectivity in ecology
and conservation. Ecology, 10: 2712-2724
Parolo G, Ferrarini A, Rossi G. 2009. Optimization of tourism impacts within protected areas by means of
genetic algorithms. Ecological Modelling, 220: 1138-1147
Rossi G, Ferrarini A, Dowgiallo G, et al. 2014. Detecting complex relations among vegetation, soil
and geomorphology. An in-depth method applied to a case study in the Apennines
(Italy). Ecological Complexity, 17(1): 87-98
Rossi P, Ferrarini A, Rossi O, Zurlini G. 2003. Analisi della struttura del paesaggio mediante dati telerilevati
del sensore MIVIS: il bacino del torrente Baganza (Parma). Biologia Ambientale, 17: 55-66
Shah VB, McRae B.H. 2008. Circuitscape: a tool for landscape ecology. In: Proceedings of the 7th Python in
Science Conference (SciPy 2008) (Varoquaux G, Vaught T, Millman J , eds). 62-66
46
Environmental Skeptics and Critics


Science will not proceed without debate and controversy. Wide and in-depth debate
and controversy on human's knowledge, attitudes, policies and practices on the
environment determines the future of our planet. There are so many controversial
and potentially controversial issues on environmental sciences and practices.

ENVIRONMENTAL SKEPTICS and CRITICS (ISSN 2224-4263) is an
international journal devoted to the publication of skeptical and critical
articles/short communications/letters on theories, viewpoints, methodologies,
practices, policies, etc., in ecological and environmental areas. The journal provides
a forum for questioning, disputing, arguing, challenging, criticizing and judging
known theories, methodologies, practices, and policies, etc., or presenting different
ideas. The topics to be covered by Environmental Skeptics and Critics include, but
are not limited to:
All controversial, non-conclusive or unexplained issues in ecological and
environmental areas.
Various reviews, prospects, commentaries, and remarks in ecological and
environmental areas.

Authors can submit their works to the email box of this journal,
environsc@iaees.org. All manuscripts submitted to Environmental Skeptics and
Critics must be previously unpublished and may not be considered for publication
elsewhere at any time during review period of this journal.

In addition to free submissions from authors around the world, special issues are
also accepted. The organizer of a special issue can collect submissions (yielded
from a research project, a research group, etc.) on a specific topic, or submissions of
a conference for publication of special issue.

Editorial Office: environsc@iaees.org

Publisher: International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Address: Flat C, 23/F, Lucky Plaza, 315-321 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Tel: 00852-6555 7188
Fax: 00852-3177 9906
E-mail: office@iaees.org
Environmental Skeptics and Critics
ISSN 2224-4263
Volume 3, Number 2, 1 J une 2014



Articles

A review on heavy metal contamination in the soil worldwide: Situation,
impact and remediation techniques
Chao Su, LiQin J iang, WenJ un Zhang 24-38


Can we trace biotic dispersals back in time? Introducing backward flow
connectivity
Alessandro Ferrarini 39-46









The International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IAEES) is a nonprofit and registered
international organization. It devotes to promote global ecology and environmental sciences and protect global
ecological environments, by publishing scientific publications, conducting research activities, launching
environmental programs, disseminating knowledge and technologies, sponsoring conferences, and providing
information and discussion spaces, etc. The responsibility for these publications rests with the International
Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.



IAEES
http://www.iaees.org/