Geochemical partitioning of copper, lead and zinc in benthic, estuarine sediment profiles

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Burton, ED, Phillips & IR, Hawker, DW 2005, ‘Geochemical partitioning of copper, lead and zinc in benthic, estuarine sediment profiles’, Journal of Environmental Quality, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 263 – 274.


Received for publication May 11, 2004. The geochemical partitioning of copper (Cu), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) was examined in benthic sediment profiles (0- to 20-cm depth interval) composed of relatively coarse (65–90% sand-sized particles), noncohesive, suboxic material (Eh +120 to +260 mV). Total Cu, Pb, and Zn concentrations ranged from 8.3 to 194, 16.3 to 74.8, and 30.1 to 220 mg/kg, respectively, and were related to vertical trends in sediment texture. The observed distribution coefficients describing solid–solution partitioning were in the range of 100 to 1000 L/kg. The geochemical partitioning of solid-phase Cu, Pb, and Zn between six operationally defined fractions was examined with a sequential extraction scheme. The association of Cu, Pb, and Zn with amorphous oxides, crystalline oxides, and organic matter was linearly dependent on the abundance of each respective phase. For retention by amorphous oxide minerals, the observed stoichiometry ranged from 5.2 to 23.7 mg/g for Cu, 12.8 to 21.5 mg/g for Pb, and 23.1 to 85.7 mg/g for Zn. Corresponding values for association with crystalline oxides were an order of magnitude less than those for amorphous oxides, indicating a lesser affinity of trace metals for crystalline oxides. The stoichiometric relationships describing association with organic matter ranged from 17.6 to 54.0 mg/g for Cu, 6.1 to 9.6 mg/g for Pb, and 6.4 to 16.4 mg/g for Zn. The results from this study provide an insight into processes controlling trace metal partitioning in coarse-textured, suboxic, estuarine sediments.