Lead isotopic analyses of selected soil samples from the USEPA Vasquez Blvd.-I-70 study area, Denver, CO

Open-File Report 2002-321




Large amounts of arsenic contamination, in excess of 2000 ppm, have been found in some residential surface soils in northern Denver, Colorado (USEPA, 1999). Associated with the arsenic are elevated levels of metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury. Potential sources of this contamination include waste from smelters in the area and commercial herbicide containing arsenic trioxide and lead arsenate (USEPA, 1999). As a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Vasquez Boulevard-I-70 Project (VBI70 project; USEPA, 1999), lead isotopic analyses of selected soil samples, smelter waste, and a commercial herbicide and a commercial lead arsenate pesticide have been performed in order to constrain the possible sources of elevated lead, and by proxy arsenic, found in these residential soils. The isotopes of lead can be used as a natural tracer in determining sources of contaminants in soils and stream sediments (e.g. Church and others, 1997; Fey and others, 1999; Unruh and others, 2000). The element lead (Pb) consists of four naturally occurring and stable isotopes, 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, and 208Pb. Three of these, 206Pb, 207Pb, and 208Pb are radiogenic decay products of naturally occurring 238U, 235U, and 232Th, respectively. Owing to variations among the U/Pb and Th/Pb elemental abundance ratios among different types of geologic materials, variations in the relative abundances of the Pb isotopes are produced among different materials during geologic time. In order for the Pb isotope method to be useful for determining possible contaminant sources, two important criteria must be met (e.g. Church and others 1997): (1) It must be possible to obtain and measure the Pb isotopic compositions in all potential contaminant sources and in uncontaminated material and (2) the Pb isotopic compositions of the potential contaminant sources must be distinctly different from one another and from uncontaminated background. Variations among the Pb isotopic ratios in selected samples can be correlated with potential sources of Pb with known isotopic compositions in order to determine the relative contribution of Pb from a specific source to the sample. The purpose of this study is to use Pb isotopic data obtained from a selected subset of samples to determine the Pb isotopic signatures of uncontaminated soils as well as those of potential sources of contamination. The data will eventually be used in conjunction with other geochemical data to help determine which source or sources of contamination are most likely responsible for the elevated arsenic levels in the residential soils.

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USGS Numbered Series
Lead isotopic analyses of selected soil samples from the USEPA Vasquez Blvd.-I-70 study area, Denver, CO
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
57 p.
United States