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Portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analysis of heavy metal contamination in church graveyards with contrasting soil types

Oliver, Ian; Wisniewski, Kristopher; Pringle, Jamie; Heaton, Vivienne; Stimpson, Ian; Jeffery, Adam J.; Madden, Charles; Glanville, Helen; Dick, Henry C.; Eeley, Madeleine; Goodwin, Jonathan


Kristopher Wisniewski

Vivienne Heaton

Adam J. Jeffery

Charles Madden

Helen Glanville

Henry C. Dick

Madeleine Eeley

Jonathan Goodwin


Human remains have been interred in burial grounds since historic times. Although the re-use of graveyards differs from one country, region or time-period to another, over time graveyard soil may become contaminated or enriched with heavy metal elements. This paper presents heavy metal element soil analysis from two UK church graveyard study sites with contrasting necrosols, but similar burial densities and known burial ages dating back to the 16th Century and some possibly older than 1,000 years. Portable X-Ray fluorescence (pXRF) element laboratory-based analyses were undertaken on surface and near-surface soil pellets. Results show elevated levels of Fe, Pb, Mn, Cr, Cu, Zn and Ca in both necrosols when compared with background values. Element concentration anomalies remained consistently higher than background samples down to 2 m , but reduced with distance away from church buildings. Element concentration anomalies are higher in the clay-rich necrosol than in sandy necrosol. Study results implications suggest that long-used necrosols are likely to be more contaminated with heavy-metal elements than similar soil outside graveyards with implications for burial grounds management, adjacent populations and where burial grounds have been deconsecrated and turned to residential dwellings.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 8, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 22, 2022
Publication Date 2022-08
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research
Print ISSN 0944-1344
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 36
Pages 55278-55292
Keywords Graveyards; Burials; XRF; Element analysis; Contaminated land
Publisher URL


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