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2013, DIILI Publication

Am. J. Life. Sci. Res.

American Journal of Life Science


Vol. 1, Issue 2, 67-73, 2013

Spatial Biomonitoring of Trace Element Contamination

and Atmospheric Quality Assessment
Ezeonyejiaku, C.D1* and Obiakor, M.O2

Department of Zoology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, PMB 5025, Awka, Anambra, Nigeria .
GreenPlanet Integrated Resources, Lagos, Nigeria
*Corresponding Author:

Abstract: Epiphytic cryptogams are increasingly gaining relevance in environmental monitoring.

Because of their naturally unique ion-exchange mechanisms, they can conveniently absorb and
bio accumulate elements in their systems. Foliose-type of lichens is observed to be highly tolerant
and reflect the history of the resident environment over time. Heavy metal pollution is on the high
rise despite apparent abatement measures. Airborne heavy metals are released from industries,
urban areas and/or other anthropogenic activities. The presence of these metals can be a problem
to human health except adequate monitoring strategy is installed. This work attempts to assess
the atmospheric heavy metal concentrations over an institutional university using lichens as bio
monitor with a view of validating a low cost methodology for mapping the air quality and to
addressing the tertiary community on their anthropogenic impact of air environment. Lichen
samples were collected based on the conventional lichen protocol after the initial diversity
mapping at four distinct locations covering the entire university environment. The samples were
prepared and analyzed for Hg, Pb, Zn, Cr, Cu, Cd, and As (ppm). Variations existed in the
distribution of the metal concentrations and lichen proved to be a good bio indicator of
environmental contamination. Hg was not detected in all the samples. Location 1 and 2 exhibited
high concentrations of as with location 1 being higher (P<0.05). The concentrations of as at the
locations pose a great risk to public health considering the land uses of the study area. Effective
and functional environmental plan should be established and sustained to monitor the air quality
and provide early warning signal for responsive action.
Keywords: Air, Lichens, Heavy metals, Bio indicator, University environment

The risk posed by the atmospheric environment to both living and non-living
organisms is astronomical compared to other environmental media. The quality of
the air medium is a function of the activities operating within the confinement of
that air irrespective of the exposure ratio. Atmospheric heavy metal deposition
using on-site environmental biomonitor is now gaining relevance in Nigeria due to
the natural selection and ubiquity of the organisms. In a previous study (in press),
we demonstrated heavy metal concentration measurements based on lichen
mapping and sampling.

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Ezeonyejiaku et al., 2013

Lichens are perennial cryptogams. They live on different types of substrate,

usually on dry or nutrient-poor sites in boreal and sub-arctic regions 1. The lichen
species best suited as biomonitors are foliose and fruticose epiphytic lichens 2.
Lichens do not have any real roots, are hardy, live a long period, and grow slowly

, making them pioneers in many habitable and uninhabitable environments. They

can reflect the history of a particular atmospheric environment including heavy
metals since they possess efficient ion-exchange mechanisms and natural
absorptive capacity.
In general, three mechanisms have been reported with regard to the absorption
of metals in lichens; intercellular absorption through an exchange process;
intercellular accumulation; and entrapment of particles that contain metal 4.There
are clear differences in the accumulation of elements between different lichen
species as a result of morphological and physiological differences 2. Different
studies and variable heavy metal concentrations in lichen species have been
documented by Bowen 5, Kapu et al. 6, Adamo et al. 7, Conti et al. 8, NG et al. 9, Cayir
et al. 10 and Rajesh et al. 11.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University is one of the most popular universities in
Southeastern Nigeria with tropical humid environment and densely populated
with both students and staff, and other occupants. It has internalized commercial
activities operating within. The high proximity of the tertiary institution to the
major traffic highway exposes her to particulate pollution of all sorts. This highway
has been under heavy and risk-prone construction and rehabilitations. Aerial
dispersion of contaminants from urban, industrial and other landuses nearby also
increase the atmospheric pollution load over the institution. Development and
integration of cost-effective methodology in predicting and monitoring the air
environment over time will reduce the exposure risk to the occupants and improve
safety concerns in a system where there is little or no government funding for
environmental sustainability. No study of this capacity has been carried out to our
knowledge within the system. For this purpose, the current survey tries to
investigate the airborne heavy metals within the spatial entity of the Nnamdi
Azikiwe University using lichens as in situ environmental biomonitor with a view to
addressing the tertiary community on their anthropogenic impact of atmospheric
environment and installing a validated low cost methodology for on-site
monitoring of the overlying air medium.
The main campus of the University is located at Awka (61225N 70404E) sited
thirty-five kilometers to the South -West of Awka in Anambra State of Nigeria.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University is owned and run by the federal government of Nigeria
providing undergraduate and postgraduate education to an estimated student

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Spatial Biomonitoring of Trace Element Contamination and Atmospheric Quality Assessment

population of over 37,000 at its over 100 acre main campus. The University ranks
among the top 10 universities in Nigeria in research output.
The entire university was mapped for the study. It was divided to cover all the
schools and faculties. The sampling locations were allocated to cover the science
village, School of Management and Social Sciences, and then the Administrative
block as shown;
Location 1: Science village
Location 2: Environmental sciences
Location 3: school of social sciences
Location 4: Administrative block
Prior to the collection and sampling of lichens, earlier reconnaissance tour was
embarked on mapping the lichen diversity at the university surrounding (data not
shown). This was done to select the suitable and widely distributed species for
effective monitoring. The substrate of the lichen species were also put into
consideration as this influences their metal surface absorptions. The fruticose
lichen diversity was very low for the study and the few located were at the forest
cover area of the university. Foliose-type of lichens was widely distributed and was
recruited for the study. Lichens of Parmeli family were used for the entire
experimental investigations.
The lichen samples preparation and analysis were evaluated based on the
modified method earlier adopted from Kapu et al. 6 and used for similar studies.
6g of the lichen samples were dried to constant weight at 600C in a hot air oven
and cooled in desiccators. The dry material (3g) was then ashed in a muffle furnace
for 6 hrs at 4600C, and the ash was cooled in desiccators for 24 hrs. The ashed
samples were digested for 3 hrs on a hot plate at 850C using 20ml of a 1:1 (w/v)
hydrochloric acid: water mixture. The digests were extracted using deionized water
and filtered into 25ml polyethylene bottles. The concentrations of Hg, Pb, Zn, Cr,
Cu, Cd, and as (ppm) were determined triplicate by atomic absorption
spectrophotometer (Perkin model). Standards containing known amount of these
metals and blank samples were subjected to the same procedure to estimate
recovery rates and to check for contamination. The average recovery was 96-97%.
Standard solutions of metals were prepared by dilution of 1000 mg/L.
The concentrations of Pb, As, Cd, Cu, Cr, and Zn are presented in Table 1. There
was variable distribution in the concentrations of the heavy metals over the
sampled location sites. The lichen samples were observed to have accumulated
highest (P<0.05) concentrations of as in their tissues. Hg was not detected from all
the locations. Location 2 showed highest (P<0.05) concentration of Zn over other
locations sampled.
Table 1. Concentrations of heavy metals observed in the foliose-type of lichens at
the study area

Heavy metals (ppm)

Ezeonyejiaku et al., 2013

















Means with the same superscripts along the same column are significantly
different (P<0.05(.
ND: Not Detected
Basis on the spatial data of heavy metal concentrations in epiphytic lichen
species, the atmospheric environment of the university is considerably laden with
pollutants of significant risk. The quantities of heavy metals observed are
appreciable taking into account the medium under study and the environment of
presence. One possible explanation could be the longevity of lichens compared to
plants, which make them intercept and absorb pollutants for a longer period and
reflect the pollution history of the environment over time. Similar stand had been
maintained by Augusto et al. 12.
Variations observed in the concentrations of the heavy metals measured in the
lichens may be related to numerous factors. As observed in our previous studies,
similar variation was also found. Air pollutants have a different effect on the fungal
and other the algal partner of the lichen species (symbionts). The algal partner has
been reported to react more sensitively, e.g., to acidic deposition and heavy metals,
and to show varying accumulation of metals depending on the acidity of
precipitation 2. Sporadic desiccation of lichens may also have an effect on the
accumulation and absorption of elements 13, resulting in the observed random
variability of the heavy metal concentrations sampled. Supporting the variation
hypothesis could be the reports of Bargagli 14 and Bargagli et al. 15, which
emphasized that after a dry period, rainfall may result in appreciable washing off
particles and the exchange of cations bound on negatively charged exchange sites
on the cell walls and plasma membranes of the cells. Comparing the statement to
the current findings, the sampling was done during the highest peak of rainfall
season (July).
The higher accumulation of Zn compared to others could be related to the age
of the lichens. As earlier quoted that lichen has long period of survival and the older
parts carry fruiting bodies rich in metals 2. Alternatively, while comparing lichens
and mosses element retention capacities, Hoodaji et al.

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posited lichen species


Spatial Biomonitoring of Trace Element Contamination and Atmospheric Quality Assessment

tend to retain higher values of Zn and Hg concentrations than mosses. The fact we
did not detect Hg maybe there is no source of the metal around the area or the
metal naturally become disposed and off the detection limit. Different heavy metal
concentrations have been reported by Adamo et al. 7 while working on lichens,
Pseudevernia furfuracea and foliose type, Parmelia and Hypogymnia. Synonymous
findings have been documented by Conti et al. 8 in Evernia prunastri, NG et al. 9 in
Dirinaria picta, Cayir et al. 10 in C. rangiformis and Rajesh et al. 11 in Pyxine cocoes
and Phaeophyscia hispidula. However, the heavy metal concentrations (Pb, Zn, Cr,
and Cu) observed in the current study were lower than the values of similar metals
documented by the above authors in different lichen species 7-11 except Cd
concentrations in location 1, which were higher than those recorded by Adamo et
al. 7, Conti 8 and NG et al. 9.
Arsenic (As) is a ubiquitous element and it ranged from 0.282 + 0.058 to 23.523
+ 0.450 ppm in the air as obtained from the lichen samples. Maximum amount of
as was reported from location 1 (Science village) and 2 (Environmental Sciences),
which are more close to the traffic highway and road networks. Location 1 is few
metres away from the traffic highway and has linear proximity to the semiindustrial area of Okpuno, Awka. Vehicular emissions and industrial influences may
attest the elevated as quantity above background concentration. Earlier studies at
this Okpuno Awka indicated high as concentrations within the surrounding air.
Moreover, location 2 with the highest as might be under the influence of aerially
dispersed vehicular emissions from the road networks within and outside the zone
and industries. Arsenic (As) is released unintentionally as a result of many human
activities like smelting, industrial applications and with combustion of fossil fuels.
Rapid leaching of as has been observed in case of exposed wastes of ores and
mining, as well as soil erosion 16, 17. In this study, maximum as 23.523 + 0.450 ppm
was reported from location 1 (Science village). In an earlier study Rajesh et al. 18, 19,
reported maximum concentration of 51.90.1 g g-1 DW of As in thallus of
Phaeophyscia hispidula from a sites having past mining activities.
The study indicates that heavy metal concentrations in the air may have greater
effect than demonstrated, reaching up to the food chain. The use of lichen species
in the investigation has shown once again its effective recruitment in predictive
and on-site atmospheric monitoring of contaminants and identification of
potential hazards. Arsenic concentration observed in the study is of great concern
as it poses a great risk of carcinogenicity. It is important to monitor the As in Awka
on a wide scale to better understand the point sources and environmental
distributions. It is also crucial to understand the mechanisms of as uptake,
translocation and transformation in lichens. Research should be embarked to
ascertaining the immediate risk to the population living in the vicinity of the study
area, long term hazard due to metal accumulation should be seriously considered.
Appropriate and functional environmental plan should be initiated and sustained
to reduce pollution and/or environmental contamination. This study having shown

Ezeonyejiaku et al., 2013

the ambient air quality based on lichen survey would provide a platform on which
to launch subsequent research on atmospheric environment.
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