Studies Into Metal Speciation and Bioavailability to Assist Risk Assessment and Remediation of Brownfield Sites in Urban Areas

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  • To improve and optimise methodologies for the source apportionment for potentially toxic elements and species in urban soils, especially in brownfield locations.
  • To determine the relative inputs and dispersion patterns arising from different sources of contamination, such as industry, domestic use and transport systems in relation to the natural background.
  • Using chemical and mineral speciation techniques, to determine relative metal mobility and bioavailability in the soil profile.
  • To apply a novel technique, based on microporous polymer samplers, to establish metal concentrations in soil solutions as a further measure of potential bioavailability.
  • To develop methods for predicting free soil solution metal concentration (M2+) from existing spatially-coordinated soil metal datasets (Msoil) and to assess the value of this secondary information in the development of land remediation priorities.
  • To test, by ‘ground truth’ measurements of metal concentrations in soil solutions and plant uptake, the validity of a range of partly-mechanistic metal solubility and plant transfer algorithms in urban soils.
  • To apply the results of items 2-6 to improve the assessment of fluxes, pathways and sinks of lead and associated potentially toxic elements and species related to land use characteristics, exposure and risk.


West Midlands


The project will comprise the following interlinked modules:

Module 1: site locations and bulk geographical data (months 1-6)

Module 2: solubility and bioavailability of elements (months 6-14)

Module 3: predicting metal ion concentration in the soil solution (months 4-12 and 16-29)

Module 4: soil to plant metal transfer factors (months 5-12 and 16-24)

Module 5: application of Pb and other metal high precision isotopic measurements (months 7-27)

Module 6: chemical and mineral forms (months 7-24)

Module 7: risk assessment (months 25-30)

Module 8: decision support system for diagnosis of metal contamination (months 25-30)

Start date/duration

October 1998 Two years and six months

Lead Organisations

Imperial College London

University of Nottingham

University of Leicester


This project will (a) prepare GIS maps for informed decision making on environmental issues related to lead contamination and (b) provide, through consultation with the user community, a decision support system to quantify the risk from contamination, in particular, for the development of urban brownfield sites.


Local Authorities

Environment Agency

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Further Details

Further information is available from the following contacts:

Lead Researcher: Prof I Thornton

Tel: 0171 594 6390, Fax: 0171 594 6408, e-mail:

URGENT Programme Manager: Graham Leeks

Tel: 01491 692203, Fax: 01491 692313, e-mail: