Fire events can modify the distribution and speciation of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) in soil, especially if they are associated to organic matter (OM). In fact, OM can undergo substantial structural modifications at high temperatures, up to the complete mineralization. The present study aims to investigate the changes of PTEs’ bioavailability to durum wheat (Triticum durum Desf.) plants after simulating fire events (up to 300 °C and 500 °C) in an agricultural soil polluted by Cr, Zn, Cu, and Pb. The PTEs’ uptake and allocation in plant tissues were assessed using the RHIZOtest system. After the fire simulations, no evident risk of accumulation and translocation in plants was observed for Zn, Pb, and Cu. Conversely, a high accumulation in roots and a significant translocation to shoots were observed for Cr, which reached concentrations of 829 mg kg−1 in roots and 52 mg kg−1 in shoots at 500 °C. Additional experimental evidence suggested that Cr was taken up by plants grown on heated soils as Cr(VI). Once acquired by roots, only a small part of Cr (up to 6%) was translocated to shoots where it was likely present as mobile forms, as evidenced by micro X-ray fluorescence (µ-XRF) analyses. Overall, the results obtained provide evidence that the high temperatures occurring during fire events can increase the mobility and bioavailability of certain PTEs transforming apparently safe environments into potentially dangerous sources of pollution. These processes can ultimately affect the human health through the food chain transfer of PTEs or their migration into surface water and groundwater.
Full paper (open access): https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-022-22471-5