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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #357495

Research Project: Optimizing Water Use Efficiency for Environmentally Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems in Semi-Arid Regions

Location: Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research

Title: Spatial and temporal patterns of heavy metal deposition resulting from a smelter in El Paso, Texas

item Van Pelt, Robert - Scott
item SHEKHTER, EUGENIA - University Of Texas - El Paso
item BARNES, MELANIE - Texas Tech University
item DUKE, SARA - US Department Of Agriculture (USDA)
item GILL, THOMAS - University Of Texas - El Paso
item PANNELL, KEITH - University Of Texas - El Paso

Submitted to: Journal of Geochemical Exploration
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/4/2019
Publication Date: 11/6/2019
Citation: Van Pelt, R.S., Shekhter, E.G., Barnes, M.A., Duke, S.E., Gill, T.E., Pannell, K.H. 2019. Spatial and temporal patterns of heavy metal deposition resulting from a smelter in El Paso, Texas. Journal of Geochemical Exploration.

Interpretive Summary: Smelting of mineral ores may result in emissions of metal-bearing particles that are deposited near and downwind of the smelter smoke stack. A smelter built in 1887 on the west (upwind) side of El Paso, Texas dispersed metallic emissions across the city for decades. Mixing with dust borne on desert winds, some of these emissions accumulated in the attics of buildings on El Paso’s west side near the smelter and on the east side further away. However, the amounts of metals that were emitted and deposited in the town of El Paso have not been fully documented. Through chemical analysis of attic dust as a natural archive, scientists from the ARS, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas, El Paso, showed that metals common to emissions from smelter operation were higher in attic dust, especially from buildings closer to the smelter. These results demonstrate that protocols previously developed for tracking emissions and dust from agricultural operations can be useful in tracking industrial emissions.

Technical Abstract: Heavy metal contamination in the environment is detrimental to human and environmental health. Air emissions from industry, especially ore smelting and refining, is a source of heavy metal contamination that affects land and populations downwind. A smelter constructed in 1887 in El Paso, Texas, USA resulted in significant environmental contamination and subsequent remediation of nearby neighborhoods. We sampled dust accumulated in attics from two distinct neighborhoods which are different distances and topographic positions downwind from the smelter site to determine if we could detect metal-bearing particulates related to smelter emissions and to evaluate potential spatial and temporal patterns of deposition. Both neighborhoods apparently had smelter particulates deposited in the depositional environment of vented attics. The proportion of smelter-associated elements in attic dust in the neighborhood nearer the smelter was greater than the neighborhood further away and across a ridge. A temporal pattern of deposition defined by the construction of a 252 m tall smokestack in 1967 significantly reduced the deposition of smelter particulates in both neighborhoods. However we found the effect was more significant in the neighborhood nearer the smelter, once again demonstrating the spatial effect of distance from source.