Massive lignite burning in Central European power plants peaked in the 1980s. Dissolved arsenic in runoff from upland forest ecosystems is one of the ecotoxicological risks resulting from power plant emissions. Maxima in As concentrations in runoff from four forest catchments have increased 2-5 times between 1995 and 2006, and approach the drinking water limit (10 microg L(-1)). To assess the fate of anthropogenic As, we constructed input/output mass balances for three polluted and one relatively unpolluted forest catchment in the Czech Republic, and evaluated the pool size of soil As. The observation period was 11 years, and the sites spanned a 6-fold As pollution gradient. Two of the polluted sites exhibit large net As export via runoff solutes (mean of 4-5 g As ha(-1) yr(-1) for the 11-year period; up to 28 g As ha(-1) yr(-1) in 2005). This contrasts with previous studies which concluded that forest catchments are a net sink for atmogenic arsenic both at times of increasing and decreasing pollution. The amount of exported As is not correlated with the total As soil pool size, which is over 78% geogenic in origin, but correlates closely with water fluxes via runoff. Net arsenic release is caused by an interplay of hydrological conditions and retreating acidification which may mobilize arsenic by competitive ligand exchange. The effects of droughts and other aspects of climate change on subsequent As release from soil were not investigated. Between-site comparisons indicate that most pollutant As may be released from humus.
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