Urban settings are a focal point for environmental contamination due to emissions from industrial and municipal activities and the widespread use of motor vehicles. As part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey, streambed-sediment and dated reservoir-sediment samples were collected from the Chattahoochee River Basin and analyzed for total lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) concentrations. The sampling transect extends from northern Georgia, through Atlanta, to the Gulf of Mexico and reflects a steep gradient in population density from nearly 1000 people/km2 in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area to fewer than 50 people/km2 in rural areas of southern Georgia and northern Florida. Correlations among population density, traffic density, and total and anthropogenic Pb and Zn concentrations indicate that population density is strongly related to traffic density and is a predictor of Pb and Zn concentrations in the environment derived from anthropogenic activities. Differences in the distributions of total Pb and Zn concentrations along the urban-suburban-rural gradient from Atlanta to the Florida Panhandle are related to temporal and spatial processes. That is, with the removal of leaded gasoline starting in the late 1970s, peak Pb concentrations have decreased to the present. Conversely, increased vehicular usage has kept Zn concentrations elevated in runoff from population centers, which is reflected in the continued enrichment of Zn in aquatic sediments. Sediments from rural areas also contain elevated concentrations of Zn, possibly in response to substantial power plant emissions for the region, as well as vehicular traffic.
Additional publication details
The urban environmental gradient: Anthropogenic influences on the spatial and temporal distributions of lead and zinc in sediments