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Influence of Highway Pavement on Metals in Road Dust: a Case Study in Houston, Texas

  • Fiala, Matthew1
  • Hwang, Hyun-Min1
  • 1 Texas Southern University, Houston, TX, USA , Houston (United States)
Published Article
Water Air & Soil Pollution
Publication Date
Apr 26, 2021
DOI: 10.1007/s11270-021-05139-7
Springer Nature


The elemental analysis of road dust can be used to determine the contribution of traffic-related metal emissions to the local environment. Previous studies have shown that brake wear, tire wear, and lead wheel weights release significant amounts of metals that lead to decreased biodiversity and degradation of urban streams. Highway pavement has not previously been considered as a source of metal inputs into the environment. To determine the extent that highway pavement contributes to metal loads in the local environment, road dust and pavement samples were collected for both asphalt and concrete pavement types on State Highway 59 in Houston, TX, USA. Samples were analyzed by ICP-MS to quantitate 9 metals: aluminum (Al), iron (Fe), vanadium (V), chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), and lead (Pb). A chemical mass balance receptor model that is commonly used for source apportionment of air pollution was applied to heavy metals in road dust, with brake dust, tire wear, wheel weights, and pavement materials as the emission sources. Pavement is shown to be the primary source of V, Cr, Ni, and Co in road dust, regardless of asphalt or concrete pavement type. Lead concentration in road dust is influenced by pavement type, with concrete pavement contributing approximately 45% of total lead in concrete road dust, while asphalt pavement only contributes 27% of total lead in asphalt road dust. Fly ash is the likely component of concrete pavement responsible for the higher contribution of Pb. An enrichment factor analysis indicates that Cr, Co, and V have low levels of enrichment compared to Cu, Zn, Pb, and Ni, indicating that pavement wear is generally a minor source of environmental metal contamination compared to brake and tire wear. Currently, brake and tire wear are the non-exhaust vehicle emissions of greatest concern; however, alternatives to fly ash should be considered to further reduce Pb and Ni concentrations in the environment.

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