Complex anthropogenic sources of platinum group elements in aerosols on Cape Cod, USA. Academic Article uri icon


  • Platinum group elements (PGE) of anthropogenic origin have been reported in rainwater, snow, roadside soil and vegetation, industrial waste, and urban airborne particles around the world. As recent studies have shown that PGE are bioavailable in the environment and pose health risks at chronic levels, the extent of PGE pollution is of global concern. In this study, we report PGE concentrations and osmium isotope ((187)Os/(188)Os) ratios of airborne particles (particulate matter, PM10) collected in Woods Hole, a small coastal village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.A. The sampling site is more than 100 km away from the nearest urban centers (Boston, Providence) and has no large industrial emission center within a 30 km radius. The study reveals that, although PGE concentrations in rural airborne particulate matter are orders of magnitude lower than in urban aerosols, 69% of the total osmium is of anthropogenic origin. Anthropogenic PGE signatures in airborne particles are thus not restricted to large cities with high traffic flows and substantial industries; they can also be found in rural environments. We further conclude that the combination of Pt/Rh concentration ratios and (187)Os/(188)Os composition can be used to trace PGE sources. The Pt/Rh and (187)Os/(188)Os composition of Woods Hole aerosols indicate that the anthropogenic PGE fraction is primarily sourced from ore smelting processes, with possible minor contributions from fossil fuel burning and automobile catalyst-derived materials. Our results further substantiate the use of (187)Os/(188)Os in source apportionment studies on continental scales.

publication date

  • September 17, 2013