Urban wastelands: On the frontline between air pollution sources and residential areas

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jun 15;721:137695. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137695. Epub 2020 Mar 5.


In urban areas, particulate matter (PM) represents an increasing threat to human health. The ability of plants in parks and along roads in cities to accumulate PM has already been demonstrated, but nothing is known about the effect of wasteland vegetation on air quality, despite a significant proportion of greenery in polluted areas being on wastelands. The aim of this study was to document the accumulation of PM and trace elements (TE) by wasteland species (Robinia pseudoacacia L., Populus × canescens (Aiton) Sm., Acer negundo L., Solidago gigantea (Aiton) and Poaceae) growing on Central European urban wastelands with differing levels of air pollution. On average, the largest amounts of PM accumulated on the foliage of R. pseudoacacia and S. gigantea, and the smallest amounts accumulated on P. × canescens leaves. However, accumulation of PM depended more on the distance from the emission source than on species selection, and was higher on the polluted wasteland where the plants' gas exchange was the lowest. The results also suggest that in order to effectively accumulate PM from the air, it is critical to have the correct configuration of plants, with the wasteland vegetation having a layered structure and layers differing in PM retention, as shown in this study using the examples of R. pseudoacacia (a tall tree with low PM retention) and S. gigantea (below-tree vegetation with high PM retention). P. × canescens accumulated the highest concentrations of Cd and Zn, S. gigantea accumulated the highest concentration of Cu, and Poaceae accumulated the highest concentrations of Cr and Ni. These findings have implications for urban vegetation management in areas where there is no organised greenery, and offer proof that vegetation in wasteland areas should be maintained since it is an excellent tool for reducing concentrations of PM at its place of origin.

Keywords: Air phytoremediation; Particulate matter; Particulate matter retention; Trace elements; Urban wastelands; Vegetation structure.