A multivariate examination of the timing and accumulation of potentially toxic elements at Las Conchas bog (NW Spain)

Environ Pollut. 2019 Nov;254(Pt B):113048. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113048. Epub 2019 Aug 12.


The inorganic content of the well-preserved 3.2-m record of Las Conchas bog (NW Spain), covering 8000 cal yr BP., was analysed. To study natural vs. human contributions, we applied an innovative approach, namely the sequential study of multivariate statistics (factor analysis followed by clustering of the factor score matrix) and enrichment factors (EFs). The increasing weight of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) such as the geochemical association of Zn, Pb and Cd (EFs higher than 10, 20 and 40 in the last two centuries) was revealed, and corroborated by the contrast between the contents of anthropogenic Pb and total Rare Earth Elements (a suitable proxy for natural geogenic supplies). Furthermore, elements such as Hg, Tl and As also showed enrichment in the most recent samples of the study core. Some of them are commonly associated with global atmospheric transport; however, in this case, their increasing contents could also be explained by nearby industrial and mining activities. In summary, severe pollution was observed in the uppermost part of the record, thereby pointing to an important environmental concern. Given that local and regional sources of PTEs, such as mining and heavy industry, especially Zn smelting, were probably the main historical causes of this contamination and that some of these industries are still active, we consider that our findings deserve further attention.

Keywords: Industrial pollution; Multivariate statistics; Ombrotrophic peatland; Potential toxic elements (PTEs).

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollution / analysis
  • Humans
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Metallurgy
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Mining
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Spain
  • Wetlands


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Mercury