A total of 75 soil samples were collected from podzolic soils at eight sites in northwestern Quebec in order to compare results in contaminated locations near the Horne Copper smelter in Rouyn-Noranda with those near Hudson Bay, 800 km further north, and a priori devoid of pollution. Lead concentrations and Pb isotopic compositions were determined on soil samples leached by 0.25 M HCl.

Lead is enriched in the surface organic horizons at all sites in Rouyn-Noranda. Its concentration decreases abruptly from the surface organic horizons to the underlying mineral horizons. The 206Pb/207Pb ratios are low in surface organic horizons, and they increase sharply in the mineral horizons. Along a NE–SW transect, the highest average Pb concentration (869 ppm) in organic horizons is found at the test site, 9 km from the smelter. The lowest average of 39 ppm Pb in surface organic layers is accompanied by the highest average 206Pb/207Pb ratio (1.15) at site 5, 116 km NE of the Horne smelter. At the test site, the highest Pb concentration of 1414 ppm is also accompanied by the lowest 206Pb/207Pb ratio (0.98), which is close to the isotopic composition of Noranda galena (206Pb/207Pb=0.92). Both Pb concentration and isotopic composition indicate that the Horne smelter is the main source of Pb contamination of soils in the Rouyn-Noranda region. The two soil profiles from near Hudson Bay display much lower Pb concentration and different trends of isotope ratios with depth.

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