Influence of organic acids on the transport of heavy metals in soil

A. P. Schwab, D. S. Zhu, Margaret Katherine Banks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Vegetation historically has been an important part of reclamation of sites contaminated with metals, whether the objective was to stabilize the metals or remove them through phytoremediation. Understanding the impact of organic acids typically found in the rhizosphere would contribute to our knowledge of the impact of plants in contaminated environments. Heavy metal transport in soils in the presence of simple organic acids was assessed in two laboratory studies. In the first study, thin layer chromatography (TLC) was used to investigate Zn, Cd, and Pb movement in a sandy loam soil as affected by soluble organic acids in the rhizosphere. Many of these organic acids enhanced heavy metal movement. For organic acid concentrations of 10 mM, citric acid had the highest Rf values (frontal distance moved by metal divided by frontal distance moved by the solution) for Zn, followed by malic, tartaric, fumaric, and glutaric acids. Citric acid also has the highest Rf value for Cd movement followed by fumaric acid. Citric acid and tartaric acid enhanced Pb transport to the greatest degree. For most organic acids studied, Rf values followed the trend Zn > Cd > Pb. Citric acid (10 mM) increased Rf values of Zn and Cd by approximately three times relative to water. In the second study, small soil columns were used to test the impact of simple organic acids on Zn, Cd, and Pb leaching in soils. Citric acid greatly enhanced Zn and Cd movement in soils but had little influence on Pb movement. The Zn and Cd in the effluents from columns treated with 10 mM citric acid attained influent metal concentrations by the end of the experiment, but effluent metal concentrations were much less than influent concentrations for citrate <10 mM. Exchangeable Zn in the soil columns was about 40% of total Zn, and approximately 80% total Cd was in exchangeable form. Nearly all of the Pb retained by the soil columns was exchangeable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)986-994
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Groundwater
  • Heavy metals
  • Leachate
  • Soil
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Influence of organic acids on the transport of heavy metals in soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this