Biomonitoring with epiphytic lichens as a complementary method for the study of mercury contamination near a cement plant

Environ Monit Assess. 2011 Oct;181(1-4):225-41. doi: 10.1007/s10661-010-1825-5. Epub 2010 Dec 17.


The study was focused on understanding the mercury contamination caused by a cement plant. Active and passive biomonitoring with epiphytic lichens was combined with other instrumental measurements of mercury emissions, mercury concentrations in raw materials, elemental mercury concentrations in air, quantities of dust deposits, temperatures, precipitation and other measurements from the cement plant's regular monitoring programme. Active biomonitoring with transplanted lichens Pseudevernia furfuracea (L.) Zopf was performed at seven of the most representative sites around the cement plant and one distant reference site for periods of 3, 6 and 12 months. In situ lichens of different species were collected at the beginning of the monitoring period at the same sites. Mercury speciation of the plant exhaust gas showed that the main form of emitted mercury is reactive gaseous mercury Hg²⁺, which is specific for cement plants. Elemental mercury in air was measured in different meteorological conditions using a portable mercury detector. Concentrations in air were relatively low (on average below 10 ng m⁻³). In situ lichens showed Hg concentrations comparable to lichens taken from the background area for transplantation, indicating that the local pollution is not severe. Transplanted lichens showed an increase of mercury, especially at one site near the cement plant. A correlation between precipitation and Hg uptake was not found probably due to a rather uniform rainfall in individual periods. Dust deposits did not influence Hg uptake significantly. Lichens vitality was affected over longer biomonitoring periods, probably due to some elements in dust particles, their alkalinity and the influence of other emissions. Mercury uptake measured in vital transplanted lichens was in a good correlation with the working hours (i.e. emitted Hg quantity) of the kiln. The study showed that selected lichens could be used to detect low to moderate Hg emissions from a cement plant and that the biomonitoring procedure could be further standardized and used as part of an environmental monitoring programme.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Construction Industry / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Lichens / chemistry*
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Slovenia


  • Air Pollutants
  • Mercury