A comparison of lead pollution record in Sphagnum peat with known historical Pb emission rates in the British Isles and the Czech Republic

Martin Novak*, Yigal Erel, Leona Zemanova, Simon H. Bottrell, Marie Adamova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Vertical Pb concentration gradients and isotope ratios (206Pb/207Pb, 208Pb/207Pb) are reported for five 210Pb-dated Sphagnum peat profiles. The studied peat bogs are in the British Isles (Thorne Moors, England; Mull, Scotland; and Connemara, Eire) and central Europe (Ocean, northern Czech Republic; Rybarenska slat, southern Czech Republic). Both the U.K. and the Czech Republic experienced maximum Pb emissions from Ag-Pb smelting around 1880. Pb emissions from coal burning peaked in 1955 in the U.K. and in the 1980s in the Czech Republic. In both countries, use of alkyl-lead additives to gasoline resulted in large Pb emissions between 1950 and 2000. We hypothesized that peaks in Pb emissions from smelting, coal burning and gasoline burning, respectively, should be mirrored in the peat profiles. However, a more complicated pattern emerged. Maximum annual Pb accumulation rates occurred in 1870 at Ocean, 1940 at Thorne Moors, 1988 at Rybarenska slat, and 1990 at Mull and Connemara. Atmospheric Pb inputs decreased in the order Thorne Moors ≥ Ocean > Rybarenska slat > Mull > Connemara. The Ocean bog was unique in the central European region in that its maximum Pb pollution dated back to the 19th century and coincided with maximum Pb smelting at Freiberg and Pribram. In contrast, numerous previously studied sites showed no Pb accumulation maximum in the 19th century, but increasing pollution until the 1980s. It remains unclear why Ocean did not record the regional peak in Pb emissions caused by high coal and gasoline burning around 1980, while an array of nearby bogs studied previously did record the 1980 coal/gasoline peak, but no 1880 smelting peak. Mean 206Pb/207Pb ratios of potential pollution sources were 1.07 and 1.11 for gasoline, 1.17 and 1.17 for local ores, and 1.18 and 1.19 for coal in the U.K. and the Czech Republic, respectively. The calculated percentages of gasoline-derived Pb in peat (≤55% for the British Isles and ≤63% for the Czech Republic) were surprisingly low. An explanation for the low percentage of gasoline-derived Pb in peat can be more easily found for the Czech sites (until 1989 Czechoslovakia was the third largest lignite producer in the world). Regional differences in deposition rates of gasoline-derived Pb in the U.K. need further study.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8997-9006
Number of pages10
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number40
StatePublished - Dec 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, grant. no. 526/06/1589 to MN. We thank Jaromir Sikl, Czech Geological Survey, Prague, for sample digestions and Rivka Nissan of the Hebrew University for chromatography work for Pb isotope analysis.


  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Isotopes
  • Lead deposition
  • Lead emission
  • Peat
  • Sphagnum


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