US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in J. Environ. Qual. 35:2092–2102 (2006).


The historical and ongoing lead (Pb) contamination caused by the 20th-century use of leaded gasoline was investigated by an analysis of bottom sediment in eight small rural reservoirs in eastern Kansas, USA. For the reservoirs that were completed before or during the period of maximum Pb emissions from vehicles (i.e., the 1940s through the early 1980s) and that had a major highway in the basin, increased Pb concentrations reflected the pattern of historical leaded gasoline use. For at least some of these reservoirs, residual Pb is still being delivered from the basins. There was no evidence of increased Pb deposition for the reservoirs completed after the period of peak Pb emissions and (or) located in relatively remote areas with little or no highway traffic. Results indicated that several factors affected the magnitude and variability of Pb concentrations in reservoir sediment including traffic volume, reservoir age, and basin size. The increased Pb concentrations at four reservoirs exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threshold-effects level (30.2 mg kg-1) and frequently exceeded a consensus-based threshold-effects concentration (35.8 mg kg-1) for possible adverse biological effects. For two reservoirs it was estimated that it will take at least 20 to 70 yr for Pb in the newly deposited sediment to return to baseline (pre-1920s) concentrations (30 mg kg-1) following the phase out of leaded gasoline. The buried sediment with elevated Pb concentrations may pose a future environmental concern if the reservoirs are dredged, the dams are removed, or the dams fail.