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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Heavy Metals in the Environment

Application of Groundwater Thresholds for Trace Elements on Percolation Water: A Case Study on Percolation Water from Northern German Lowlands


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 4, p. 1253-1262
    Received: June 22, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): levke.godbersen@bgr.de
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  1. L. Godbersen *a,
  2. W. H. M. Duijnisvelda,
  3. J. Utermanna,
  4. H.-E. Gäblera,
  5. G. Kuhntb and
  6. J. Böttcherc
  1. a Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Stilleweg 2, 30655 Hanover, Germany
    b Institute for Physical Geography and Landscape Ecology, Leibniz Univ., Schneiderberg 50, 30167 Hanover, Germany
    c Institute of Soil Science, Leibniz Univ., Herrenhäuser Str. 2, 30419 Hanover, Germany. Assigned to Associate Editor Erik Smolders


The German insignificance thresholds (GFS) for groundwater, derived with an added risk approach, will soon be adopted as trigger values for percolation water entering groundwater. The physicochemical properties of the vadose zone differ considerably from those of groundwater, which may lead to difficulties in the applicability of groundwater-derived GFS to percolation water. To test the applicability of the GFS to percolation water regarding the concentration level and the field-scale variability, 46 sites in Northern Germany were sampled, including arable land, grassland, and forest, situated on three spatially dominant parent materials: sand, glacial loam, and loess. Concentrations of As, Ba, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sb, Sn, V, Zn, and F were analyzed in percolation water from the transition between the unsaturated to the saturated zone. We compared median and 90th percentile values of the background concentrations with the GFS. In more than 10% of all samples, background concentrations of Cd, Co, Ni, V, or Zn exceeded the GFS. We evaluated the applicability of the GFS on field-scale medians of background concentrations taking field-scale interquartile distance and the bootstrap percentile confidence interval of the field scale median of trace element background concentrations into consideration. Statements about exceedance or nonexceedance of GFS values could only be made with acceptable statistical uncertainty (α ≤ 0.1) when operational median concentrations were about one third higher or lower than the corresponding GFS.

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