Pb pollution from leaded gasoline in South America in the context of a 2000-year metallurgical history

Eichler, A.; Gramlich, Gabriela; Kellerhals, Thomas; Tobler, L.; Schwikowski, Margit (2015). Pb pollution from leaded gasoline in South America in the context of a 2000-year metallurgical history. Science Advances, 1(2), e1400196. American Association for the Advancement of Science 10.1126/sciadv.1400196

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Exploitation of the extensive polymetallic deposits of the Andean Altiplano in South America since precolonial times has caused substantial emissions of neurotoxic lead (Pb) into the atmosphere; however, its historical significance compared to recent Pb pollution from leaded gasoline is not yet resolved. We present a comprehensive Pb emission
history for the last two millennia for South America, based on a continuous, high-resolution, ice core record from Illimani glacier. Illimani is the highest mountain of the eastern Bolivian Andes and is located at the northeastern margin of the Andean Altiplano. The ice core Pb deposition history revealed enhanced Pb enrichment factors (EFs)
due to metallurgical processing for silver production during periods of the Tiwanaku/Wari culture (AD 450–950), the Inca empires (AD 1450–1532), colonial times (AD 1532–1900), and tin production at the beginning of the 20th century. After the 1960s, Pb EFs increased by a factor of 3 compared to the emission level from metal production, which we attribute to gasoline-related Pb emissions. Our results show that anthropogenic Pb pollution levels from road traffic in South America exceed those of any historical metallurgy in the last two millennia, even in regions with exceptional high local metallurgical activity.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DCBP)

UniBE Contributor:

Gramlich, Gabriela, Kellerhals, Thomas


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 540 Chemistry
500 Science > 530 Physics




American Association for the Advancement of Science




Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

10 Jun 2015 16:04

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:47

Publisher DOI:






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