Comparison of methods used to calculate typical threshold values for potentially toxic elements in soil

Rebekka McIlwaine, Siobhan Cox, Rory Doherty, Sherry Palmer, Ulrich Ofterdinger, Jennifer M McKinley

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Abstract

The environmental quality of land can be assessed by calculating relevant threshold values, which differentiate between concentrations of elements resulting from geogenic and diffuse anthropogenic sources and concentrations generated by point sources of elements. A simple process allowing the calculation of these typical threshold values (TTVs) was applied across a region of highly complex geology (Northern Ireland) to six elements of interest; arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, nickel and vanadium. Three methods for identifying domains (areas where a readily identifiable factor can be shown to control the concentration of an element) were used: k-means cluster analysis, boxplots and empirical cumulative distribution functions (ECDF). The ECDF method was most efficient at determining areas of both elevated and reduced concentrations and was used to identify domains in this investigation. Two statistical methods for calculating normal background concentrations (NBCs) and upper limits of geochemical baseline variation (ULBLs), currently used in conjunction with legislative regimes in the UK and Finland respectively, were applied within each domain. The NBC methodology was constructed to run within a specific legislative framework, and its use on this soil geochemical data set was influenced by the presence of skewed distributions and outliers. In contrast, the ULBL methodology was found to calculate more appropriate TTVs that were generally more conservative than the NBCs. TTVs indicate what a "typical" concentration of an element would be within a defined geographical area and should be considered alongside the risk that each of the elements pose in these areas to determine potential risk to receptors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-971
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Volume36
Issue number5
Early online date24 Apr 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014

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Bibliographical note

Upper Quartile Journal (Q1 IF 2.57) with rigorous peer review. This paper develops values of background concentrations across NI that have been quickly adopted by industry

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