Soils that have been acutely contaminated by heavy metals show distinct characteristics, such as colonization by metal-tolerant plant species and topsoil enrichment in weakly degraded plant debris, because biodegradation processes are strongly inhibited by contamination. Such an organic topsoil, located downwind of an active zinc smelter and extremely rich in Zn (approximately 2%, dry weight), was investigated by X-ray diffraction, synchrotron-based X-ray microfluorescence, and powder- and micro-extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectroscopy for Zn speciation and by isotopic dilution for Zn lability. EXAFS spectra recorded on size fractions and on selected spots of thin sections were analyzed by principal component analysis and linear combination fits. Although Zn primary minerals (franklinite, sphalerite, and willemite) are still present (approximately 15% of total Zn) in the bulk soil, Zn was found to be predominantly speciated as Zn-organic matter complexes (approximately 45%), outer-sphere complexes (approximately 20%), Zn-sorbed phosphate (approximately 10%), and Zn-sorbed iron oxyhydroxides (approximately 10%). The bioaccumulated Zn fraction is likely complexed to soil organic matter after the plants' death. The proportion of labile Zn ranges from 54 to 92%, depending on the soil fraction, in agreement with the high proportion of organically bound Zn. Despite its marked lability, Zn seems to be retained in the topsoil thanks to the huge content of organic matter, which confers to this horizon a high sorption capacity. The speciation of Zn in this organic soil horizon is compared with that found in other types of soils.
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