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📰 Evolution of thallium air pollution in Europe

Although less prevalent in the environment than lead and cadmium, thallium is a very toxic metal, even at very low concentrations. Cement production and coal burning are major anthropogenic sources of thallium (Thallium is a chemical element with symbol Tl and atomic number 81.) for which emissions have been estimated on a global scale. The atmospheric levels of thallium are much less well documented than those of other toxic metals, which greatly limits the confidence in these estimates. Furthermore, the latest estimates date back to the 1980s and no longer-term inventory is currently available.


Evolution of thallium of non-crustal origin (ncTl) in Mt ice White (White is the color of a body heated to about 5000°C (see…) (in black) and deposits simulated by FLEXPART related to the combustion (Combustion is an exothermic redox chemical reaction. When the…) coal (in blue), the combustion of coal and the production of cement (Cement (from the Latin caementum, meaning rubble, building stone) is a material…) (in red)


Evolution of coal consumption (black dots) and cement production (grey triangles) since 1850 in Europe.

Elementary chemical measurements in ice cores taken from the Col du Dome () in the Alps have been used to document pre-industrial levels and the pollution (Pollution is defined as what makes an environment unhealthy. The definition varies by…) to thallium in Western Europe during 20th century (A century is now a period of a hundred years. The word comes from the Latin saeculum, i, which…). The deposits observed in the ice were compared to the deposits simulated by the model of dispersion (Dispersion, in wave mechanics, is the phenomenon affecting a wave in a…) and transportation (Transportation is the act of carrying something, or someone, from one place to another, the most…) ofaerosol (An aerosol is a set of particles, solid or liquid, of a chemical substance…) FLEXPART, using anthropogenic thallium emissions estimated on the basis of data (In information technology (IT), data is an elementary description, often…) statistics (Statistics is both a formal science, a method and a technique. It…) coal consumption and cement production in Europe.

The analysis indicates that coal burning was the main source of thallium pollution from 1890 to 1965. The impact of this source then gradually decreased due to declining coal consumption, technological improvements and implementing measures to reduce emissions. The ice shows that the contribution of cement production (which increased sharply in Europe after the Second (Second is the feminine of the adjective second, which comes immediately after the first or which…) World War) was weak and limited to the period 1960-1985. During the 1990s, thallium air pollution had been reduced by almost 80% compared to the 1970s.

This first reconstruction of thallium pollution in Europe also showed that thallium was a relevant tracer for identifying coal-related pollution in ice cores and other continental archives.

This study, coordinated by the Institute of Geosciences ofenvironment (The environment is everything that surrounds us. It is all the natural elements and…) (IGE/OSUG, CNRS (The National Center for Scientific Research, better known by its acronym CNRS, is the largest…) / IRD / UGA / Grenoble INP), with the support of European projects (ALPCLIM and CARBOSOL), INSU-CNRS and ADEME (ESCCARGO program), was carried out with the Desert Research Institute (USA).

Learn more:
Thallium Pollution in Europe over the Twentieth Century Recorded in Alpine Ice: Contributions from Coal Burning and Cement Production – Geophysical Research Letters.
Legrand, M., McConnell, JR, Preunkert, S., Bergametti, G., Chellman, NJ, Desboeufs, K., Plach, A., Stohl, A. & Eckhardt, S.
https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GL098688

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