The potential for kelp manufacture to lead to arsenic pollution of remote Scottish islands

G J Riekie, P N Williams, A Raab, A A Meharg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Burning seaweed to produce kelp, valued for its high potash and soda content, was formerly a significant industry in remote coastal areas of Scotland and elsewhere. Given the high concentrations of arsenic in seaweeds, up to 100 mg kg(-1), this study investigates the possibility that the kelp industry caused arsenic contamination of these pristine environments. A series of laboratory-scale seaweed burning experiments was conducted, and analysis of the products using HPLC ICP-MS shows that at least 40% of the arsenic originally in the seaweed could have been released into the fumes. The hypothesis that the burning process transforms arsenic from low toxicity arsenosugars in the original seaweeds (Fucus vesiculosus and Laminaria digitata) to highly toxic inorganic forms, predominantly arsenate, is consistent with As speciation analysis results. A field study conducted on Westray, Orkney, once a major centre for kelp production, shows that elevated arsenic levels (10.7+/-3.0 mg kg(-1), compared to background levels of 1.7+/-0.2 mg kg(-1)) persist in soils in the immediate vicinity of the kelp burning pits. A model combining results from the burning experiments with data from historical records demonstrates the potential for arsenic deposition of 47 g ha(-1) year(-1) on land adjacent to the main kelp burning location on Westray, and for arsenic concentrations exceeding current UK soil guideline values during the 50 year period of peak kelp production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-342
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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