Background levels of urban land contamination

  • Richard C. Haines

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The research work reported in this thesis is concerned with the development and application of an urban scale sampling methodology for measuring and assessing background levels of heavy metal soil contamination in large and varied urban areas. The policy context of the work is broadly the environmental health problems posed by contaminated land and their implications for urban development planning. Within this wider policy context, the emphasis in the research has been placed on issues, related to the determination and application of 'guidelines' for assessing the significance of contaminated land for environmental planning.
In concentrating on background levels of land contamination, the research responds to the need for additional techniques which address both the problems of measuring soil contamination at the urban scale and which are also capable of providing detailed information for use in the assessment of contaminated sites. Therefore, a key component of the work has been the development of a land-use based sampling framework for generating spatially comprehensive data on heavy metals in soil. The utility of the information output of the sampling method is demonstrated in two alternative ways. Firstly, it has been used to map the existing pattern of typical levels of heavy metals in urban soils. Secondly, it can be used to generate both generalised data in the form of 'reference levels' from which the overall significance of .background contamination may be assessed and detailed data, termed 'normal limit levels' for use in the assessment of site specific investigation data.
The fieldwork was conducted in the West Midlands Metropolitan County and surface soil has been sampled and analysed for a measure of plant-available' and 'total' lead cadmium, copper and zinc. The research contrasts with much of the previous work on contaminated land which has generally concentrated on either the detailed investigation of individual sites suspected of being contaminated or the appraisal of land contamination resulting from specific point sources.
Date of Award1982
Original languageEnglish


  • background levels
  • urban land contamination
  • environmental planning
  • contaminated land
  • heavy metals
  • mapping

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