Institute of Environmental Research at Greater Bay, Key Laboratory of Water Quality and Conservation in the Pearl River Delta, Ministry of Education, Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Radionuclides Pollution Control and Resources, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Guangzhou University, 510006 Guangzhou, China; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. Electronic address: [Email]
As an element with well-known toxicity, excessive thallium (Tl) in farmland soils, may threaten food security and induce extreme risks to human health. Identification of key contamination sources is prerequisite for remediation technologies. This study aims to examine the contamination level, health risks and source apportionment of Tl in common vegetables from typical farmlands distributed over a densely populated residential area in a pyrite mine city, which has been exploiting Tl-bearing pyrite minerals over 50 years. Results showed excessive Tl levels were exhibited in most of the vegetables (0.16-20.33 mg/kg) and alarming health risks may induce from the vegetables via the food chain. Source apportionment of Tl contamination in vegetables was then evaluated by using Pb isotope fingerprinting technique. Both vegetables and soils were characterized with overall low 206Pb/207Pb. This indicated that a significant contribution may be ascribed to the anthropogenic activities involving pyrite deposit exploitation, whose raw material and salgs were featured with lower 206Pb/207Pb. Further calculation by binary mixing model suggested that pyrite mining and smelting activities contributed 54-88% to the thallium contamination in vegetables. The results highlighted that Pb isotope tracing is a suitable technique for source apportionment of Tl contamination in vegetables and prime contamination from pyrite mining/smelting activities urges authorities to initiate proper practices of remediation.