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Department of Biomonitoring

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In the mid-1980’s, the institute began monitoring roadside soils and crops, which were contaminated by lead and other metals, and determining tree bark parameters indicating acid rain effects in various parts of the country. An increasing amount of implemented projects which required environmental quality monitoring led to the establishment of the separated Department of Biomonitoring in 2000. The department has been required to perform the following crucial activities:

  • To create, test and validate effective methods of bioindication according to the contamination loads on the environment.
  • To arrange national surveys and participate in international campaigns of atmospheric deposition rates and monitoring of selected pollutants across the Czech Republic using suitable bioindicators.
  • Biogeochemical investigation of coniferous forest ecosystem compartments and surveys of the effects of major anthropogenic pollution sources.
  • To determine selected pollutant concentrations in natural materials for causal or irregular customers.
  • To maintain an archive of samples, databases of chemical analytical results and maps of contamination distribution of the country and publish the biomonitoring results in national surveys and research literature.

The department lab is equipped with the specific analytical instruments required, such as, a simultaneous optical emission spectrometer with inductively coupled plasma spectrometer (ICP-OES Optima DV 5300), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS Elan 6000), a mass spectrometer with dynamic reaction cell (ICP-MS-DRC II), atomic absorption spectrometers for determination of Hg concentrations (AMA-254 a AMA-254HC), an instrument which determines total concentration of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur (LECO CNS)  as well as technical appliances and support background equipment for drying,  milling and microwave digestion of samples at high temperatures (CEM MARS a CEM STAR Plus). In monitoring the concentration of organic pollutants in the environment, the lab can use a freeze dryer ALPHA 2-4/LSC for drying samples, a system for speed extraction by means of organic solvents (ASE-300), a Varian 210 ProStar modular semi-preparative HPLC system, a Dionex SE-400 vaporizer which is compatible with the ASE-300 and a mass spectrometer (Varian 4000 MS/MS) with a gas chromatograph Varian 3800. The lab equipment enables the comprehensive implementation of projects dealing with environmental contamination. The laboratory uses validated methods and procedures. The quality of analytical results is checked through the lab’s participation in the evaluating programs for analytical labs WEPAL, University Wageningen (http://www.wepal.nl/) and in a check mechanism of the international biomonitoring campaigns of UNECE ICP-Vegetation (http://icpvegetation.ceh.ac.uk/).

Since 1990, the department has monitored concentrations of approximately 35–40 chemical elements in forest moss samples repeatedly collected at 250–280 permanent sampling plots introduced throughout the Czech Republic. These investigations have been performed according to the framework of the international cooperative program investigating effects of air pollution of UNECE ICP-Vegetation. In these international biomonitoring campaigns, the department cooperates with counterparts in various European countries. The department has presented the obtained biomonitoring results in the form of annotated maps of element concentration distributions in bioindicators published in Czech national reports and European moss monitoring surveys. The department coordinated the implementation of the project aimed at finding the distribution of 8–52 chemical element concentrations in moss bioindicators within the territory of four Visegrad countries in 2005. The project implementation and publishing of maps was supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

The department has also started research aimed at detecting the distribution of long-term accumulated pollutants from atmospheric deposition archived in forest floor humus - both on a national (Czech Republic) scale as well as in detail in the surrounding areas of selected major pollution sources such as a secondary lead smelter (Pribram) and a chlor-alkali plant (Spolana Neratovice). The long-term (1989–2010) course of air quality has been monitored detecting parameters of tree bark extracts (e.g., pH, electrical conductivity, sulphate concentrations). The bark specimens have been collected at monitoring plots introduced across the Czech Republic, in urban and suburban green plots, along the elevation profiles in mountainous areas, etc. The distribution activities of selected radionuclides (e.g., 137Cs, 238Pu, 239,240Pu, 90Sr) from the pre-Chernobyl (atmospheric nuclear tests) and Chernobyl fallout trapped in tree bark and forest floor humus throughout the country has been investigated in cooperation with the National Radiation Protection Institute.

Within the project frame (CZ0074) funded by the Financial Mechanism of Norway, the biogeochemical investigations of 250 coniferous forests plots situated within the country were carried out between 2008 and 2011. The concentration distribution of about 40 chemical elements in moss (Pleurozium schreberi), grass (Avenella flexuosa) annual and biennial spruce needles (Picea abies), forest floor humus and upper and lower mineral forest soils were identified and mapped (http://www.norwaygrantcz0074.eu/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55&Itemid=106&lang=en).

Mapping the distribution of lead isotopic ratios in natural materials at the monitored locations revealed the range effect of the main anthropogenic emission sources with the emission specific lead isotopic ratios operating within the country in which it was detected. The distribution and time changes in concentrations of selected organic pollutants (PAHs, PCBs) in the forest moss indicator alongside a highway as well as at a reference plot near the station monitoring rural air quality (CZ01, Kosetice) was investigated.

Research in the department is aimed at progression, optimization and validation of sampling methods and the processing of samples for chemical analysis and extraction as well as determining pollutants according to studies using ICP-MS-DRC II and similar methods.

For irregular or causal commissions, the department staff members determine concentrations of selected pollutants in samples of soils, composts, flood sediments, biomass, waters, etc.

The databases of the long-term courses of moss, humus and bark contamination (1987–2010) across the country as well as along the urban-rural gradient and mountain elevation transects are maintained within the department. The annotated map sets illustrating the long-term changes in distribution of the bioindicator contaminations in the country have been archived. The department runs an archive of the bioindicator samples collected in the previous biomonitoring surveys for additional or check analyses.

More details about the department activities and obtained research results are available at biomonitoring.