A new approach to assess the degree of contamination and determine sources and risks related to PTEs in an urban environment: the case study of Santiago (Chile)


In 2017, a geochemical survey was carried out across the Commune of Santiago, a local administrative unit located at the center of the namesake capital city of Chile, and the concentration of a number of major and trace elements (53 in total) was determined on 121 topsoil samples. Multifractal IDW (MIDW) interpolation method was applied to raw data to generate geochemical baseline maps of 15 potential toxic elements (PTEs); the concentration-area (C-A) plot was applied to MIDW grids to highlight the fractal distribution of geochemical data. Data of PTEs were elaborated to statistically determine local geochemical baselines and to assess the spatial variation of the degree of soil contamination by means of a new method taking into account both the severity of contamination and its complexity. Afterwards, to discriminate the sources of PTEs in soils, a robust Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was applied to data expressed in isometric log-ratio (ilr) coordinates. Based on PCA results, a Sequential Binary Partition (SBP) was also defined and balances were determined to generate contrasts among those elements considered as proxies of specific contamination sources (Urban traffic, productive settlements, etc.). A risk assessment was finally completed to potentially relate contamination sources to their potential effect on public health in the long term. A probabilistic approach, based on Monte Carlo method, was deemed more appropriate to include uncertainty due to spatial variation of geochemical data across the study area. Results showed how the integrated use of multivariate statistics and compositional data analysis gave the authors the chance to both discriminate between main contamination processes characterizing the soil of Santiago and to observe the existence of secondary phenomena that are normally difficult to constrain. Furthermore, it was demonstrated how a probabilistic approach in risk assessment could offer a more reliable view of the complexity of the process considering uncertainty as an integral part of the results.



Urban geochemistry, Contamination degree assessment, Multifractal IDW, Compositional data analysis (CoDA), Proabilistic risk assessment, Monte Carlo method