Recognition of Trace Element Contamination Using Ficus macrophylla Leaves in Urban Environment


Urban areas are characterized by numerous pollutants emitted by anthropic sources both in the form of solid and gaseous particulates. Biomonitoring is an easy, economical, and accessible approach for the determination of atmospheric pollutants. In this study, we used the leaves of Ficus macrophylla Desf. ex Pers., collected in the city of Palermo (Italy), to determine major and trace elements. Geogenic elements exhibited the highest concentrations, making up 99% of the weight of the analyzed elements (Ca, K, Mg, P, S, Na, Fe, and Al); they range 21,400 (Ca) to 122 µg g-1 (Al). The remaining elements showed median concentrations in the range 47.5-0.05 µg g-1 in the following order of abundance: Sr > Cu > Mn > Zn > Br > Rb > Ba > Pb > Cr > Sb > As > Mo = Sc. Cluster analysis, with Spearman’s coefficient to measure sample similarity, identified five main groups, namely, three clusters related to the geogenic background and marine spray; one cluster linked to elements essential to plants, and a final group attributed to the influence of traffic emissions. Calculated enrichment factors (EF) showed that the enrichments found for P and K were linked to plant metabolism; Na and Mg confirmed the role of sea spray; Cu and Zn underlined the contribution linked to anthropic processes and the role of micronutrients in plants.. As, Cr, and Mo had EF values ranging from 10 and 20, and Sb had EF > 90. From geochemical distribution maps of As, Cr, Mo, and Sb it was observed that metal and metalloid concentrations were higher in urban areas and immediately decreased as one moved away from these areas. Local pollution sources play a great role in trace element concentrations in airborne particulate matter. The present study confirms that Ficus macrophylla leaves are suitable for screening an urban environment to identify concentrations of inorganic chemicals, since they have high tolerance to pollution.

Authors: Alaimo MG, Varrica D
; Full Source: International Journal of environmental research and public health. 2020 Jan 31;17(3). pii: E881. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17030881.