Variations in stable lead isotopic composition (240Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, 208Pb) in three sediment cores from the San Francisco Bay estuary document temporal changes in sources of lead during the past two centuries. Sediment, with lead from natural geologic sources, and relatively homogeneous lead isotopic compositions are overlain by sediments whose isotopic compositions indicate change in the sources of lead associated with anthropogenic modification of the estuary. The first perturbations of lead isotopic composition in the cores occur in the late 1800s concordant with the beginning of industrialization around the estuary. Large isotopic shifts, toward lower 206Pb/207Pb, occur after the turn of the century in both Richardson and San Pablo Bays. A similar relationship among lead isotopic compositions and lead concentrations in both Bays suggest contamination from the same source (a lead smelter). The uppermost sediments (post 1980) of all cores also have a relatively homogenous lead isotopic composition distinct from pre-anthropogenic and recent aerosol signatures. Lead isotopic compositions of leachates from fourteen surface sediments and five marsh samples from the estuary were also analyzed. These analyses suggest that the lead isotopic signature identified in the upper horizons of the cores is spatially homogeneous among recently deposited sediments throughout the estuary. Current aerosol lead isotopic compositions [Smith, D.R., Niemeyer, S., Flegal, A.R., 1992. Lead sources to California sea otters: industrial inputs circumvent natural lead biodepletion mechanisms. Environmental Research 57, 163-175] are distinct from the isotopic compositions of the surface sediments, suggesting that the major source of lead is cycling of historically contaminated sediments back through the water column. Both the upper core sediments and surface sediments apparently derive their lead predominantly from sources internal to the estuary. These results support the idea that geochemical cycling of lead between sediments and water accounts for persistently elevated lead concentrations in the water column despite 10-fold reduction of external source inputs to San Francisco Bay [Flegal, A.R., Rivera-Duarte, I., Ritson, P.I., Scelfo, G., Smith, G.J., Gordon, M., Sanudo-Wilhelmy, S.A., 1996. Metal contamination in San Francisco Waters: historic perturbations, contemporary concentrations, and future considerations in San Francisco Bay. In: Hollobaugh, J.T. (Ed.), The Ecosystem. AAAS, pp. 173-188].
Additional publication details
Stable lead isotopic analyses of historic and contemporary lead contamination of San Francisco Bay estuary