Biosci. Biotech. Res. Comm. 11(2): 291-299 (2018)
Heavy metal contamination in street precipitated dust
in Tabriz City, Iran and its ecological risk
Vakil Heidari Sareban* and Sharare Saeb
Associate Professor of Geography and Rural Planning, University of Mohaghegh Ardabili, Ardabil, Iran
Dusts are suspended particulate matters in the air, which are created from different terrestrial and human made
sources. Over time, they re-precipitate on surfaces given their size and density. Forty-nine samples of street dusts
were collected from the sideways of several main streets from the city center, the Tabriz South passenger terminal,
and one sample was collected from the yard inside Tabriz University in the summer and under dry climate conditions.
Further, the concentration of iron, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, chromium, copper, lithium, and cadmium metals
was measured in them. The possible sources of contaminants were identi ed using correlation analysis, cluster analy-
sis, Pearson correlation coef cient, and principal component analysis. In addition, using enrichment factor (EF), the
effect of human activities on the concentration of heavy metals was assessed. The results indicated high concentra-
tions of cadmium, lead, copper, zinc, iron, chromium, and nickel compared to the mean concentration of these metals
in the Earth’s crust. The maximum concentration of copper, lead, chromium, nickel, zinc, and iron was related to
Kasaey Expressway, which is one of the most crowded expressways of Tabriz. Analysis of the results indicated that
contamination can be due to different human activities including heavy traf c of vehicles, combustion of fossil fuels,
additives added to vehicles’ fuels, corrosion of metal surfaces of automobiles, and corrosion of construction materials.
The enrichment factor values of copper, cadmium, lead, and zinc showed extremely high enrichment, with human
origin. The calculations related to the ecological risk were also performed using Hankinson method. All of the studied
points show very high ecological risk.
*Corresponding Author:
Received 9
Jan, 2018
Accepted after revision 3
March, 2018
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DOI: 10.21786/bbrc/11.1/15
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
The growth of population, industries, and vehicles has
increased the extent of pollution across cities especially
Metropolitan cities. Therefore, recently evaluation of the
quality of street dusts as pollution sources has attracted
a great deal of attention. The heavy metals in street dusts
are one of the major pollutants of urban environment,
which can be due to heavy traf c, industries, wear of
buildings, wear of rubber and peace is used in vehicles,
mineral activities, and combustion of fossil fuels, (Jir-
ies, 2003; Al-Khashman, 2007, Manasreh, 2010 Mukati,
Over the past few years, large amounts of atmos-
pheric dusts have entered cities including Tabriz through
the country’s boundaries. Although there is controversy
over their accurate origin, it is stated that their main
sources are the deserts of the neighboring countries. In
any case, signi cant amounts of them precipitate on
the surfaces of urban regions as dust. Combustion of
fossil fuels also produces some amount of heavy met-
als including nickel), chromium, lead, and manganese.
These pollutants have aggregation and carcinogenic
properties, and can develop various health and envi-
ronmental problems. Furthermore, exposure to them
can bring about low intelligence, kidney problems, and
for long-term exposure, it can cause death. Street dusts
containing heavy metals can also enter the children’s
body through hands and mouth (Watt, et al., 1993, Jiries,
2003, Balarak, 2017).
Recently, various studies have been conducted about
the concentration and distribution of heavy metals,
some of which has been performed in developed coun-
tries. In Turkey, Sezgin et al selected one of the express-
ways of this country to take samples from soil and street
dusts. The sampling was performed from both sides of
this Expressway and the tunnel. Analysis of the results
indicated that the mean lead concentration in the street
dusts was 9-11 times as large as its concentration in the
soil. Regarding copper and cadmium, the mean concen-
tration of this pollutant in street dusts was twice as large
as their concentration in soil. This number is around
9-12 times for zinc.Nickel also indicates a concentra-
tion higher than the concentration in the soil. Next, the
sources of emission of these metals are attributed to
industries and vehicle traf c (Sezgin, et al., 2003).
In another study, conducted in Lebanon by Jiries,
the sampling regions were categorized into four regions
including city center, tunnels, indoor parking lots for
vehicles, and residential areas. The maximum level of
heavy metals was observed in the tunnels, while the
minimum concentration existed in the residential areas.
Thereafter, based on the results, it was found that there
is a high correlation between lead and cadmium. There-
fore, it can be stated that these pollutants have a com-
mon emission source, (Jiries, 2003).
In a number of studies, sources of emission of heavy
metals in the soil and street dusts have been examined
using cluster analysis and principal component analy-
sis. In 1997, De Miguel used cluster analysis of Method
Ward as well as two-dimensional principle component
analysis. He considered three sources of vehicle traf c,
building construction, and natural resources among the
factors for emission of 25 types of rare metals in street
dusts in Oslo and Madrid (Miguel et al., 1997). Ordonez
et al detected the source for emission of 27 different
metals in the studied dusts samples using SPSS and
cluster analysis as human sources, natural sources, or a
combination of them (Ordonez et al., 2003).
Considering the intensi ed level of air pollution and
suspended particles in recent years in Tabriz, as well as
entrance of large dust masses in the past two years along
with the adverse effects of polluted dusts on citizens’
health and environment, the concentration of heavy
metals in this populated city should be investigated. In
the present study, the concentration of copper, cadmium,
chromium, nickel, manganese, zinc, iron, lithium, and
lead present in street dusts of Tabriz was examined to
identify the sources of production and the ecological
risk resulting from these pollutants was measured, and
nally analyzed.
Tabriz is a metropolitan city in the Northwest of Iran and
is the capital of East Azerbaijan province. In 2016, Tabriz
population has been around 1558693 people. This city is
the largest economic pole of the north west of Iran, and
is considered the administrative, communication, trade,
political, industrial, cultural, and military center of this
region.In recent years, the number of residents and in
turn industries in vehicles in this city has increased con-
siderably, such that today Tabriz is considered one of the
most polluted cities of the world. Tabriz climate is warm
and dry, and precipitation usually occurs during fall and
winter. For this reason, sampling was performed in the
dry season of summer and in August, when precipitation
is minimum. The sampling distribution is as follows:
Ten samples were collected from Imam Khomeini,
Azadi streets as well as Kasaei Expressway. Five sam-
ples were taken from Shotorbanan and 17 Shahrivar
streets, 14 were collected from the southern passenger
terminal, and  nally one sample was taken from Tabriz
University. The sampling from street and expressways
was performed to emphasize their vehicles and heavy
traf c as one of the most important environmental pol-
luting sources. The sampling was performed using a
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
sweep and blower taken from the margin of curbs at
both sides of the streets, as well as margin of curbs and
the walls of the passenger terminal. The samples were
then kept inside special bags and transferred to the labo-
ratory at a temperature less than 4°C. To ensure absence
of measurement errors and calculate the concentrations
and based on the typical method of these studies, the
samples were experimented at room temperature (less
than 40°C) until reaching a constant dry weight. There-
after, they were passed through seeves with 10, 35, 60,
and 230 scores.
The granulation results of some of the samples have
been presented in Table 1. The particles with a diameter
of less than 63 micron (the diameter of the sieve pore
with score 230), which are easily scattered in the air and
become suspended and are more probable to enter the
respiratory system and develop risk to the human health
as per the method of Zhou et al., (2003) were investi-
To measure the concentration of heavy metals, acid
digestion was performed using HCl, nitric acid, and per-
chloric gram. The concentration of heavy metals was
measured by atomic absorption device (210 VGP). For
all of the analyses, the control samples and per each
10 samples, one duplicate sample underwent acid diges-
tion and was analyzed alongside other samples.The error
of the experiments was less than 6%. Cluster analysis
and principal component analysis were employed using
MVSP and SPSS 18.0 software applications to iden-
tify the possible sources of metals in street dusts, while
enrichment factor (EF) was utilized to investigate the
possible effects of human activities on their concentra-
tion (Wei et al., 2010). The EF of a metal is obtained by
the following relation:
Where, In Eq. (1), [C_x/Cref] sample represents the
ratio of the intended concentration to the reference
metal in the studied sample and [C_x/Cref] background
shows the ratio of the intended metal to the reference
metal as the background values. Five different groups of
EF values are de ned for analyzing the obtained values,
as shown in Table 2 (Yongming, et al., 2006).
To obtain the ecological risk of heavy metals, the fol-
lowing relation was used (Hakanson, 1980):
Where, in Eq. 2, C
is the concentration of the sam-
pled metal and C
shows the background values of the
metals. E
denotes the ecological risk of each element
and RI reveals the ecological risk of the sum of the ele-
ments. Hakanson (1980) has presented T
value (which
is the toxicity index of heavy metals) as 30, 5, 5, 2,
and 1 for cadmium, copper, lead, chromium, and zinc,
respectively. To analyze the obtained values, four differ-
ent groups are de ned, as presented in Table 3.
The maximum, minimum, mean, and standard devia-
tion values of the concentration of different metals
across the 50 studied samples are presented in Table 3.
The maximum concentration of copper, lead, chro-
mium, nickel, zinc, and iron is related to the sampling
points in Kasaei Expressway, which is one of the most
crowded expressways of Tabriz. Based on this point, it
Table 1. The mass percentage of particles across different sizes of the dusts
samples and some of the studied stations
0/5-20/25-0/5 0/063-0/250-0/063
Particle Diameter
Sample number
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
Table 2. Different groups of the range of changes in
the EF
extent of enrichmentEF values
2> EFLow enrichment
2≤ EF <5Medium enrichment
5≤ EF <20High enrichment
20 ≤ EF <40Very high enrichment
EF≥40 Extremely high enrichment
Table 3. The groups of the range of changes
in RI and ecological risk value
RI valueEcological risk value
150> RILow ecological risk
150≤ RI <300Medium ecological risk
300≤ RI <600Considerable ecological risk
RI ≥ 600 Very high ecological risk
Table 3. There values of the mean, minimum, and maximum concentration and
standard deviation of the studied cases (n=50)
standard deviationMaximumMinimumMeanElement
3/988/692/687/9iron (%)
can be stated that the possible origin of these metals
includes the sources related to the extensive commuting
of vehicles. However, cadmium, manganese, and lithium
have different emission sources.
To investigate whether the concentration of the con-
taminant is measured in this study reveals large val-
ues or not, Table 4 compares the different heavy metals
studied around the world and in this research. Compared
to other cities, especially the cities belonging to devel-
oped countries, the concentration of cadmium, manga-
nese, zinc, iron, and lithium reveals larger values. Cad-
mium and zinc metals show far higher concentration
compared to the rest of the points, increasing the con-
cern over the high level of these pollutants in the street
dusts of Tabriz. Lead and copper, which are also among
the main pollutants on the environment, except for a
few cases, have concentrations higher than those around
the globe.
Furthermore, except for nickel, chromium, and lith-
ium, other elements have signi cantly larger concen-
trations than the mean concentration in the Earth’s
crust. Considering these three metals, one cannot say
that as they have lower values compared to the mean
earth crust level, they originate from the nature. This is
because according to Table 4, the values of these three
pollutants in other cities are also lower than the mean
value of the Earth’s crust. Since Iran is not considered an
industrial country when compared to Canada, England,
and Spain, and Table 4 has presented the data of popu-
lated cities including London, the high level of some of
the pollutants in street dusts of Tabriz is serious and it
is possibly due to other sources apart from the natural
One of the sources for emission can be considered the
fuel used in the vehicles of Tabriz, which considering its
unsuitable quality, it may show larger values for haz-
ardous pollutants in Tabriz compared to industrial and
populated cities of the world. Corrosion of the body of
vehicles, different metal surfaces across the city, as well
as the tiny particles of rubber and brake pad of the vehi-
cles are also other sources for entrance of these metals as
particulate matters in the urban environment.
Enrichment factor (EF)
To identify the natural or non-natural sources of the
pollutants measured in the study, various analyses have
been used. EF values can be used to understand whether
the sources of emission of heavy metals are natural or
human-made. As shown in the formula related to EF
calculation, a value called background values required.
Across different studies, the values calculated for heavy
metals from previous studies are chosen as the back-
ground value (Manasreh, 2010; Zheng, et al., 2010).
In some of the studies, concentration of heavy metals
in the Earth’s crust has also been used as background
values (Tokalioglu, et al., 2003; Kartal, et al., 2006).
Therefore, as measuring the concentration of heavy
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
Table 4. The mean concentration of heavy metals present in street dusts of Tabriz and other parts of the world (ppm)
9/348725/6863/61212/233/356/36255/410/5224<64Tabriz (this study)
1/725370/6410144/618/3316/279761/1249/6<200Oman (Jordan)
Jiries (2003)
Charlesworth, et al
179034415324662/935/5<63Kuala Lumpur
and Badri (1989)
2600068010303/5155<500London (England)
Schwar, et al
53621321361/71431/369<63Mutah (Jordan)
Manasreh (2010)
1930047636261441927188<100Madrid (Spain) De
Miguel, et al(1997)
9256601845345919680/6188100-250Otawa (Canada)
Rasmuseen, et al
354/8232/467/9386/90/2172/4<63Kawala (Greece)
Christoforidis and
Stamatis (2009)
20410007595010080140/250--------The mean
of heavy metals
in the Earth’s
crust Karbassi,
et al. (2005) &
Niencheski, et al.
metals present in street dusts of Tabriz is performed for
the  rst time in this study, due to unavailability of pre-
vious information and not developing and presenting
the background concentration values of elements for
different regions of the world by the relevant organs
(while these values have been prepared and presented by
many countries) (Jien, et al., 2011; Wei, et al., 2010), the
mean values present in the Earth’s crust have been used
as the background concentration of metals.
According to Relation 1, in addition to the back-
ground values, some other values are required as the
reference metal. Typically, the metal chosen as the refer-
ence metal has the minimum correlation coef cient with
other heavy metals, and it mostly originates from natu-
ral sources. In this study, to select the reference metal
in calculations related to the EF, correlation coef cients
of heavy metals with each other were calculated and
presented in Table 5. The correlation coef cients in this
table are Pierson coef cients.
As can be observed in Table 5, manganese, lithium, and
cadmium metals do not have a considerable correlation
with other metals. In most cases, however, they show nega-
tive correlation coef cients with other pollutants. There-
fore, they have different possible emission sources from
other pollutants. Cadmium is found in trace amounts in the
Earth’s crust and typically human activities cause elevated
concentration of this pollutant in the water, soil, and air.
There are also some studies in which lithium have been
used as the reference metal for normalizing the calcu-
lations (Niencheski, et al., 2002; Loring, 1991). There-
fore, lithium concentration was used for reference val-
ues. Using the concentration of the studied heavy metals
across the 50 sampling stations, their mean concentration
in the Earth’s crust in Table 4 and Relation 1, EF related
to each metal was calculated and presented in Table 6.
The metals with maximum EF of over 10 may mostly
be due to human activities (Yongming et al., 2006). In
any case, the high values of this factor represent enrich-
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
ment and possible risks of metals. Accordingly, based on
the obtained results, it can be said that copper, cadmium,
lead, and zinc are probably a result of human activities.
At least it can be stated there is a high risk factor for the
human health with exposed to these dusts.
As can be seen in Table 6, it is observed that cadmium
shows a large enrichment factor. As the reference con-
centration of this metal is very low (0.2), thus cadmium is
possibly due to human activities and could be the riskiest
metal among the studied metals here in the urban dusts
of Tabriz. The same situation applies to lead.In calcu-
lating enrichment factor which lithium as the reference
metal, the EF of nickel and chromium is close to 2, and
thus they can be partly due to human activities. In this
state, the mean EF of iron and manganese is larger than 2,
thus showing a medium enrichment level. To identify the
human or natural origin of the studied elements, principal
component analysis and cluster analysis have been used,
and the results were then compared.
Cluster analysis and Pearson correlation coef cient
To identify the possible emission sources of pollutants,
Pearson correlation coef cient was calculated using
MVSP software, with the calculation results presented
in Table 5. Based on the table, copper, chromium, lead,
nickel, zinc, and iron have high correlation coef cients.
Therefore, they share common possible emission sources.
Lithium has the largest correlation coef cient with man-
ganese. As can be observed, cadmium does not have a
considerable correlation coef cient with other pollut-
ants, suggesting a different emission source. To enhance
the accuracy of the results, the dendrogram related to
these calculations which shows the Pearson correlation
coef cient of pollutants with each other can be observed
in Fig. 2. Based on this  gure, the emission sources can
be categorized into three main groups A, B, and C. cop-
per, iron, chromium, and metal lie in Cluster A, with a
correlation coef cient of larger than 0.6. Therefore, they
may share a common emission source. Zinc, with also
a correlation coef cient of larger than 0.5, joins these
metals and has almost the same emission source.
Fig. 2. The dendrogram for cluster analysis of the pol-
lutants present in street dusts (source: MVSP software)
Considering the components constituting this cluster,
nickel, chromium, iron, lead, and copper may have dif-
ferent emission sources including combustion of fossil
Table 5. The correlation coef cient values of heavy metals with each other
Table 6. The spectrum of the EF values obtained considering lithium as the
reference metal across the samples
MaximumMinimumMean EF values
Heavy metals
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
fuels, sources originating from iron alloys (corrosion)
and possibly earth sources containing iron element to
some extent. As nickel exists in heavy fossil fuels as well
as gas oil, it is also possible that some of the elements
of this cluster may have originated from combustion
of heavier fuels and other heavy hydrocarbons sources
such as bitumen for covering the passages.
In the second main branch lies only cadmium. Con-
sidering the close-to-zero correlation coef cient it has
with Group C, and negative coef cient in conjunction
with Group C it has with Group A, its source of emis-
sion in street dusts is different from the source of other
pollutants. Manganese and lithium are in the branch C,
showing a negative and close-to-zero correlation coef-
cient with other pollutants in other branches.It can be
stated that the main source of emission of lithium is
the nature. However, regarding manganese, as it has a
far larger concentration than the mean concentration in
the Earth’s crust, in addition to natural origin and local
soils, it may also have human sources, which are clearly
different from the sources of other heavy metal studied
Principal component analysis (PCA)
Using PCA and SPSS 18.0, the accuracy of the results
obtained from the previous analyses was examined. The
principal factors extracted with a characteristic value of
over 0.7 were chosen, with Table 7 revealing the values
of the matrix containing the rotational components of
these factors. As can be observed, three main factors
were obtained from PCA.
The main factors larger than 0.5 in each group of
Table 7 have been shown. Copper, lead, chromium,
nickel, iron, and zinc have considerable back is larger
than 0.7, and thus they share the same emission source,
which are human sources. As could be predicted, man-
ganese and lithium in the second group with the fac-
tors larger than 0.5 are linked to each other and share
the same emission source, which are probably natural
With negative factors values or the very low values
it shows with other substances, cadmium has lied in the
third group and has a different source compared to other
pollutants. Therefore, it can be stated that factors 1 and
3 indicate different human sources, but factor 2 repre-
sents natural emission sources.
The three different analysis used for identifying the
emission sources of the pollutants presented almost the
same results. Therefore, the different sources of produc-
tion of these pollutants can be categorized into the three
following groups:
Group I: copper, lead, chromium, nickel, zinc, and
iron lie in this group. These pollutants are most probably
due to human activities. Studies have shown that the
main sources of emission of lead in street dusts include
additives added to vehicle fuels. Chromium, copper, and
zinc originated from wear of the alloys used in vehi-
cles as well as other services and metal materials. Iron is
also used in coverage of vehicles. Therefore, the wear of
Table 8.
Ecological risk RIcopperCadmiumLeadChromiumZincmetals
Very high1938.141.551602.55180.10.9115.1Kasaei Expressway
Very high1718.9527.511697.1785.50.7810.32Imam Khomeini
Very high1705.816.251718.558.950.6110.5Azadi Street
Very high1706.0517.45160575.580.5910.1Shotorbanan Street
Very high1796.45.89174839.020.485.3917 Shahrivar
Very high1848.8924.911713100.150.6911.09Southern passenger
Very high1698.9618.811602.3418.710.5312.65Tabriz University
Table 7. The matrix of the rotational components of
the pollutants present in the street dusts of Tabriz
Factor 3Factor 2Factor 1Heavy metal
Vakil Heidari Sareban and Sharare Saeb
the cover used in vehicles can enhance the concentra-
tion of this element in street dusts. Industrial activities
could also be considered sources for emission of these
elements in street dusts. However, as the sampling was
performed on Regis inside the city and the margin of
streets, where no factory or a special industry existed
around the streets, the main source can be considered
wear of pieces used in vehicles. Combustion of fossil
fuels and the oils used in vehicles are among the main
sources of producing nickel. The maximum concentra-
tion of the pollutants in this group belongs to Kasaei
Expressway, which is more crowded than other regions.
Therefore, the high rate of vehicle traf c is the main
source for emission of these pollutants.
Group II: cadmium is used in producing batteries, plas-
tic, and construction materials. In this study, administra-
tive and residential buildings were abundant around the
streets. Therefore, wear of tires and battery of vehicles
as well as construction materials seems to be the main
source of cadmium emission. In any case, combustive ori-
gin for cadmium is unlikely, but its human origin in the
city and considering the illusion intensity is evident.
Group III: manganese and lithium like in this group.
Regarding the considerable correlation lithium has with
manganese and considering the relatively high concen-
tration of manganese in dusts, it seems that it is the
origin of some part of manganese present in the dusts of
natural sources containing lithium (such as the regional
soil), and the origin of some part of it includes human
sources dissimilar to the sources of other metals.
Ecological risk
To investigate the ecological risk of the sampling sta-
tions, E
and RI values were calculated by Relation 2,
with the results presented in Table 8.
All of the sampling stations indicate high ecologi-
cal risk. The maximum ecological risk is associated with
Kasaei Expressway, which is one of the most crowded
expressways of Tabriz. The minimum risk also belongs
to the dusts inside Tabriz University. Considering the
minor commute of vehicles in this point, the large space
of the University, the extent of the green space, and the
distance between the sampling point and the peripheral
lines of the University and its surrounding streets in rela-
tion to the other sampling points, the obtained results
seem to be absolutely logical. Furthermore, although
Tabriz University is not considered a crowded region
for vehicles, this point of sampling also shows a high
ecological risk. Possibly, blow of wind causes displace-
ment of polluted dusts of streets around the University,
thereby elevating its ecological risk. The mean RI across
the sampling points of the south of Tabriz indicates that
the ecological risk and concentration of pollutants in
this part of Tabriz are high and serious.
In this study, the concentration of nine heavy metals was
measured across 50 samples of street dusts in Tabriz city.
Furthermore, calculation of ecological risk resulting from
emission and identi cation of different sources of heavy
metals in street dusts were performed. Based on the cal-
culations and the analyses, three main sources including
high traf c of vehicles (the pieces used in vehicles and
combustion of fossil fuels), the pieces used in buildings,
and natural sources are among the factors for emission of
heavy metals in street dusts. Using the calculations related
to the ecological risk, all of the stations indicated high
risk. Therefore, the health risks of exposure, inhalation,
and possible swallowing of particulate matters of these
dusts across Tabriz regions are very high. Thus, more
detailed studies are required to investigate the effects and
risks resulting from this issue across Tabriz.
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