American Chemical Society
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Quantification of Bioaccessible and Environmentally Relevant Trace Metals in Structure Ash from a Wildland–Urban Interface Fire

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-01-26, 22:31 authored by Carmen M. Villarruel, Linda A. Figueroa, James F. Ranville
Wildfires at the wildland–urban interface (WUI) are increasing in frequency and intensity, driven by climate change and anthropogenic ignitions. Few studies have characterized the variability in the metal content in ash generated from burned structures in order to determine the potential risk to human and environmental health. Using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), we analyzed leachable trace metal concentration in soils and ash from structures burned by the Marshall Fire, a WUI fire that destroyed over 1000 structures in Boulder County, Colorado. Acid digestion revealed that ash derived from structures contained 22 times more Cu and 3 times more Pb on average than surrounding soils on a mg/kg basis. Ash liberated 12 times more Ni (mg/kg) and twice as much Cr (mg/kg) as soils in a water leach. By comparing the amount of acid-extractable metals to that released by water and simulated epithelial lung fluid (SELF), we estimated their potential for environmental mobility and human bioaccessibility. The SELF leach showed that Cu and Ni were more bioaccessible (mg of leachable metal/mg of acid-extractable metal) in ash than in soils. These results suggest that structure ash is an important source of trace metals that can negatively impact the health of both humans and the environment.