Variations in the isotopic composition of lead in 1995-1998 river waters flowing into San Francisco Bay trace the washout of lead deposited in the drainage basin from leaded gasoline combustion. At the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers where they enter the Bay, the isotopic compositions of lead in the waters define a linear trend away from the measured historical compositions of leaded gas in California. The river waters are shifted away from leaded gasoline values and toward an isotopic composition similar to Sierra Nevadan inputs which became the predominant source of sedimentation in San Francisco Bay following the onset of hydraulic gold mining in 1853. Using lead isotopic compositions of hydraulic mine sediments and average leaded gasoline as mixing end members, we calculate that more than 50% of the lead in the present river water originated from leaded gasoline combustion. The strong adsorption of lead (log K(d) > 7.4) to particulates appears to limit the flushing of gasoline lead from the drainage basin, and the removal of that lead from the system may have reached an asymptotic limit. Consequently, gasoline lead isotopes should prove to be a useful nonpoint source tracer of the environmental distribution of particle- reactive anthropogenic metals in freshwater systems.
Additional publication details
Past leaded gasoline emissions as a nonpoint source tracer in riparian systems: A study of river inputs to San Francisco Bay