Metal content in street dust as a reflection of atmospheric dust emissions from coal power plants, metal smelters, and traffic

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2013 Jul;20(7):4455-68. doi: 10.1007/s11356-012-1398-7. Epub 2012 Dec 18.


Resuspended street dust is a source of inhalable particles in urban environments. Despite contaminated street dust being a possible health risk factor for local population, little is known about the contribution of atmospheric dust emissions and other factors to the content of toxic metals in street dust. The impact of smelting, traffic, and power plants on metal contaminates in street dust is the focus of street dust sampling at 46 locations in the Witbank area (Republic of South Africa). This area is characterized by numerous open-pit coal mines in the Karoo coal basin, which provides a cheap source of energy to numerous metallurgical smelters and ironworks and supplies coal to the coal-fired power plants located nearby. Street dust was collected on asphalt or concrete surfaces with hard plastic brushes, avoiding collecting of possible sand, soil, or plant particles. Chemical analysis was done on the <0.125 mm fraction using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry subsequent to total digestion. Exceptionally high concentrations of metals were detected with concentrations of Fe reaching 17.7%, Cr 4.3%, Mn 2%, Ni 366 mg/kg, and V 4,410 mg/kg. Factor analysis indicates three sources for the pollution. Road traffic which contributes to the high concentrations of Cu, Pb, Sb, and Sn, with the highest impacts detected in the town of Witbank. The second source is associated with the metal smelting industry, contributing to Fe, Co, Mn, and V emissions. The highest factor scores were observed around four metallurgical smelter operations, located in the Ferrobank, Highveld, and Clewer industrial areas. Impact of vanadium smelter to street dust composition could still be detected some 20 km away from the sources. Exceptionally high concentrations of Cr were observed in four samples collected next to the Ferrobank industrial area, despite Cr not being loaded in factor 2. The last source of the pollution is most probably fly ash associated with the coal-fired power plants and fly ash dumps. Elements which are associated with this source are Al, Sr, and Li. This factor is abundant in the coal mining part of the study area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Coal / analysis
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Metallurgy
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Power Plants*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis
  • South Africa
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Dust
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Vehicle Emissions