Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds are ubiquitous in ambient surface soils in the city of Chicago, Illinois. PAH concentrations in samples collected in June 2001 and January 2002 were typically in the following order from highest to lowest: fluoranthene, pyrene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, phenanthrene, benzo(a)pyrene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, dibenzo(a,h)anthracene, and anthracene. Naphthalene, acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, and fluorene were consistently at the lowest concentrations in each sample.
Concentrations of the PAH compounds showed variable correlation. Concentrations of PAH compounds with higher molecular weights typically show a higher degree of correlation with other PAH compounds of higher molecular weight, whereas PAH compounds with lower molecular weights tended to show a lower degree of correlation with all other PAH compounds. These differences indicate that high and low molecular-weight PAHs behave differentl y once released into the environment.
Concentrations of individual PAH compounds in soils typically varied by at least three orders of magnitude across the city and varied by more than an order of magnitude over a distance of about 1,000 feet. Concentrations of a given PAH in ambient surface soils are affected by a variety of site-specific factors, and may be affected by proximity to industrial areas. Concentrations of a given PAH in ambient surface soils did not appear to be affected the organic carbon content of the soil, proximity to non-industrial land use, or proximity to a roadway.
The concentration of the different PAH compounds in ambient surface soils appears to be affected by the propensity for the PAH compound to be in the vapor or particulate phase in the atmosphere. Lower molecular-weight PAH compounds, which are primarily in the vapor phase in the atmosphere, were detected in lower concentrations in the surface soils. Higher molecular-weight PAH compounds, which are present primarily in the particulate phase in the atmosphere, tended to be in higher concentrations in the surface soils. The apparent effect of the PAH phase in the atmosphere on the concentration of a PAH in ambient surface soils indicates that atmospheric settling of particulate matter is an important source of the PAH compounds in ambient surface soils in Chicago.
The distribution of PAH compounds within the city was complex. Comparatively high concentrations were detected near Lake Michigan in the northern part of the city, in much of the western part of the city, and in isolated areas in the southern part of the city. Concentrations were lower in much of the northwestern, south-central, southwestern, and far southern parts of the city.
The arithmetic mean concentration of arsenic, mercury, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, molybdenum, zinc, and selenium was from 2 to 6 times higher in ambient surface soils in the city of Chicago than in soils from surrounding agricultural areas. The arithmetic mean concentration of lead in Chicago soils was about 20 times higher. Concentrations of calcium and magnesium above those of surrounding agricultural areas appear to be related to the effects of dolomite bedrock on the chemical composition of the soil. Elevated concentrations of the remaining elements listed above indicate a potential anthropogenic source(s) of these elements in Chicago soils.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Concentrations of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and inorganic constituents in ambient surface soils, Chicago, Illinois, 2001-02