Environmental hazard assessment of contaminated soils in Antarctica: Using a structured tier 1 approach to inform decision-making
Generally, Antarctica is considered to be an untouched area of the planet; however, the region's ecosystems have been subject to increased human pressure for at least the past half-century. This study assessed soils of Fildes Peninsula, where trace element pollution is thought to prevail. Four soil samples were collected from different locations and assessed following tier 1 methodologies for chemical and ecotoxicological lines of evidence (LoE) used in typical soil Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA). Trace element quantification was run on soil samples and sequential extracts, and elutriates were used to address their ecotoxicity using a standard ecotoxicological battery. The highest levels of trace elements were found for Cr, Cu, Ni and Zn, which were well above baseline levels in two sites located near previously identified contamination sources. Trace element concentrations in soils were compared with soil quality guidelines to estimate the contribution of the chemical LoE for integrated risk calculations; risk was found high, above 0.5 for all samples. Total concentrations in soil were consistent with corresponding sequentially extracted percentages, with Cu and Zn being the most bioavailable elements. Bacteria did not respond consistently to the elutriate samples and cladocerans did not respond at all. In contrast, the growth of microalgae and macrophytes was significantly impaired by elutriates of all soil samples, consistently to estimated trace element concentrations in the elutriate matrix. These results translated into lower risk values for the ecotoxicological compared to the chemical LoE. Nevertheless, integrated risk calculations generated either an immediate recommendation for further analysis to better understand the hazardous potential of the tested soils or showed that the soils could not adequately sustain natural ecosystem functions. This study suggests that the soil ecosystem in Fildes has been inadequately protected and supports previous claims on the need to reinforce protection measures and remediation activities.
Authors: Pereira, Joana Luísa, Pereira, Patrícia, Padeiro, Ana, Gonçalves, Fernando, Amaro, Eduardo, Leppe, Marcelo, Verkulich, Sergey, Hughes, Kevin A., Peter, Hans-Ulrich, Canário, João