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Is the ground of an old cemetery suitable for the establishment of an urban park? A critical assessment based on soil and microbiological data

Massas, Ioannis, Kefalogianni, Io, Chatzipavlidis, Iordanis
Journal of soils and sediments 2018 v.18 no.1 pp. 94-108
Clostridium perfringens, Enterococcus, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, arsenic, basins, chromium, coliform bacteria, copper, iron, leaching, lead, manganese, mixing, nickel, nitrates, organic matter, pathogens, soil ecosystems, soil microorganisms, soil properties, soil sampling, soil surveys, spring, urban parks, zinc, Greece
PURPOSE: Considering that cemeteries may represent a potential environmental threat, the purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility to reclaim the area of an old cemetery for the establishment of an urban park. The old cemetery is located within the urban net of Nikaia municipality, in the Athens basin, Greece, and it has been operating for almost 80 years until 2003 that it was abandoned. MATERIALS AND METHODS: During spring of 2014, ten tranches were excavated in the graveyard and composite soil samples were collected from four depths, 0–30, 30–80, 80–150, and 150–250 cm representing surface soil, the above burial depth soil, the burial soil, and the below burial soil, respectively. In addition, 11 surface soil samples were also collected to fully cover the area. Thus, 58 soil samples were examined for their physical and chemical properties as well as the total and available Pb, Cu, Zn, Mn, Cr, Ni, Fe, and As concentrations. Forty-one of these samples were tested for the presence of Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium perfringens, total coliforms, Escherichia coli as indicator of fecal coliforms, enterococci, and total number of bacteria. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: The irregular depth distribution of key soil properties illustrates the mixing of soil layers for a long time due to the burial practices. The significant increase of total N in the burial depth points to N occluded in soil micro-aggregates or to N in slowly decomposing organic substances. With few exceptions, median total metal concentrations in the cemetery soil showed similar values as those reported for the soils of Athens basin. Strong indications of nitrates leaching during the operation period were also observed. Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes were not detected. Coliforms and enterococci presented in few soil samples while Clostridium perfringens in almost all samples. However, the populations of these pathogens were not particularly high and the total bacterial population in the soil samples was found within the normal limits. CONCLUSIONS: The performed soil survey suggests that within 11 years, the soil ecosystem of the studied old cemetery reached a close to stability situation. The low metal availability ratios that indicate minor recent metal additions in the graveyard soil along with the relatively low pathogen populations support the initial idea for the reclamation of the studied site.