Macroalgae (seaweed) has been shown to be an effective environmental indicator. We investigate the trace element chemistry of macroalgae samples from locations along the Firth of Forth and Forth Estuary in Scotland. The overall trend in elemental abundance (Os ≪ Re < Ag < U < Cd < Co < Ni < Pb < Cu < As < Zn ≪ I), and changes along the estuary (seawards: increase As, I, Cd, U, Re, Os; decrease Pb, Cu; mid-estuary peak Zn; based on certain species), are controlled by a number of factors, including: salinity, mixing and macroalgal species differences. Within the same macroalgal species, some elemental abundances (As, I, Pb, Cu, Cd and U) are affected by mixing between freshwater riverine and North Sea marine saltwater. Additional mixing of natural and anthropogenic inputs from the surrounding geology and industry are also observed, affecting Zn, Ni, Co, Re and Os. Macroalgae is also an increasingly popular food, with some species harvested in the Firth of Forth. Iodine (67–5061 ppm), lead (0.047–4.1 ppm) and cadmium (0.006–0.93 ppm) macroalgal abundances are at safe levels for human consumption (WHO limits). However, many samples exceed the American (3 ppm) and Australian (1 ppm) limits for inorganic arsenic in macroalgae, with values ranging 0–67 ppm. In most of the samples, soaking and cooking the macroalgae reduced the inorganic arsenic content to within the American and Australian limits. However, this has further implications if the macroalgae is used to cook soups (e.g., Dashi), as the leached elements become a significant component of the soup.
Ownsworth, E., Selby, D., Ottley, C. J., Unsworth, E., Raab, A., Feldmann, J., … Bücker, P. (2019). Tracing the natural and anthropogenic influence on the trace elemental chemistry of estuarine macroalgae and the implications for human consumption. Science of the Total Environment, 685, 259–272. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.05.263