Main content area

Gaseous Elemental Mercury Level and Distribution in a Heavily Contaminated Site: the Ex-chlor Alkali Plant in Torviscosa (Northern Italy)

Acquavita, Alessandro, Biasiol, Stefano, Lizzi, Daniel, Mattassi, Giorgio, Pasquon, Mariangela, Skert, Nicola, Marchiol, Luca
Water, air, and soil pollution 2017 v.228 no.2 pp. 62
bioaccumulation, breathing, buildings, chlorine, geographical distribution, humans, lichens, mercury, reclaimed land, residential areas, risk, rivers, sediments, soil, soil pollution, solar radiation, surface water, surveys, temperature, toxicity, villages, wind, Italy
Mercury (Hg) poses environmental and health risks due to its global distribution and high toxicity exhibited in some of its chemical forms. Although Hg is naturally present in the environment, human activities have increased its cycling among the land, atmosphere and ocean by a factor of three to five comparing the pre-industrial period to the present day. The Torviscosa chlor-alkali plant (CAP), which operated since the beginning of twentieth century, was one of the most important Cl₂ production capacity in the Northern Italy and was responsible for an uncontrolled discharge of Hg in the surrounding area. Previous studies reported the high degree of Hg pollution in soils, river sediments and surface waters of the area, but the Hg level in the atmospheric media was never taken into consideration. In this work, an integrated approach was applied with the aim to assess the level, distribution and dispersion of gaseous elemental mercury (GEM) close to the CAP area. GEM levels were monitored by means of four surveys conducted from September 2014 to July 2015, at fixed locations and covering an area of about 10 km² (including CAP area, Torviscosa village and reclaimed land), accomplished to Hg bioaccumulation measurements in selected lichens. The results indicate that the CAP area currently represents the main source of GEM in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. The highest levels were found close to the old factory’s buildings (more than 5000 ng m⁻³), whereas other sites are less impacted. The emission of GEM is not clearly related to the intensity of solar radiation (temperature) at the soil level; however, this latter influences the release from the old buildings employed in the past for the production activities. The most important factor driving the GEM dispersion is the wind, as confirmed by the map of lichens bioaccumulation. In this context, the GEM plume partially affects the nearby village of Torviscosa (about 1 km), but the values found were always well below the international thresholds for residential areas, thus excluding the risk of inhalation for local inhabitants.