Ice-core based assessment of historical anthropogenic heavy metal (Cd, Cu, Sb, Zn) emissions in the Soviet Union

Research Division Biology and Chemistry (BIO), Analytical Chemistry Group, Head Margit Schwikowski.

Estimated historical heavy metal (Cd, Cu, Sb, and Zn) emissions from the territory of the former Soviet Union during the period 1935-1991 based on ice-core records from Belukha glacier in the Siberian Altai (star).

The development of strategies and policies aiming at the reduction of environmental exposure to air pollution requires the assessment of historical emissions. Although anthropogenic emissions from the extended territory of the Soviet Union (SU) considerably influenced concentrations of heavy metals in the Northern Hemisphere, Pb is the only metal with long-term historical emission estimates for this region available, whereas for selected other metals only single values exist. Here we present the first study assessing long-term Cd, Cu, Sb, and Zn emissions in the SU during the period 1935-1991 based on ice-core concentration records from Belukha glacier in the Siberian Altai and emission data from 12 regions in the SU for the year 1980. We show that Zn primarily emitted from the Zn production in Ust-Kamenogorsk (East Kazakhstan) dominated the SU heavy metal emission. Cd, Sb, Zn (Cu) emissions increased between 1935 and the 1970s (1980s) due to expanded non-ferrous metal production. Emissions of the four metals in the beginning of the 1990s were as low as in the 1950s, which we attribute to the economic downturn in industry, changes in technology for an increasing metal recovery from ores, the replacement of coal and oil by gas, and air pollution control.