Heavy Metal Pollution in Soils of South Park

This site is designed to help the general public to understand the problem of heavy metal pollution discovered in soils of South Park, The Claddagh, Galway City, Ireland.

(This site is currently under construction.)

South Park

Industrial waste found in South Park (covered by top soils now)

Soil profile in South Park

Artificial 3D image showing Pb (lead) pollution in soils of South Park

Children playing in South Park (access is restricted now)

Contaminated grasses in South Park (with white leaves)


Q: What is heavy metal?

A: Metals with gravity > 5 mg/cm3 (5 times of water). They are generally rare in nature. However, their concentrations can be increased via mineralization and/or human pollution.

Q: Is heavy metal pollution a serious problem?

A: Yes, it is well known internationally. Here in Ireland, in the end of 1999 and early 2000, several calves died in the area of Silvermines, County Tipperary due to heavy metal pollution. Calves ate contaminated grasses together with contaminated soils.

One of the most serious examples of heavy metal pollution is Minamata disease found in Japan. Since 1956, >100 people were killed due to consumption of polluted fish. The fish was polluted by methylmercury.

Q: What is the relationship between heavy metal pollution and human health?

A: Good question. But you can easily Google many answers.

Q: Which heavy metals were found in South Park?

A: The author and collaborators focused on Pb, As, Cu and Zn based on a previous study and indeed due to lack of sufficient financial support. However, other metals should exist together.

Q: Why South Park?

A: It is a sports ground frequently used by children, residents and tourists.

Q: Was the discovery confirmed?

A: It was confirmed by the author and collaborators, and re-confirmed by Galway City Council via an independent investigation.

Q: Are there any other sites polluted in Galway?

A: The answer is "very likely", but we do not know exactly where they are and how serious they are due to lack of investigation. South Park is one of the pollution hotspots in Galway city discovered by the author.

Q: Is Galway city special?

A: No. Galway is an ordinary city in Ireland on this issue. It is expected that other cities in Ireland have the same problems that remain to be discovered. 

Q: How was the problem found?

A: South Park was found as one of the pollution hotspots in a research funded by the Millennium Research Programme of NUI, Galway in early 2005 (Published in an international journal Environmental Pollution 142(3): 501-511). The author re-confirmed the initial finding by having the sample re-analysed and taking 5 more samples in Mid 2005. At that time, the author thought he hit a bonfire site (BTW, bonfire pollution is another interesting topic).

During June 13-17, 2006, an intensive investigation was carried out by analysing 200 surface samples on a grid basis at 0-10 cm. Beyond the expectation of the author and collaborators, it was found that most of the site was polluted. Meanwhile, we learnt that South Park was a historical rubbish dumping site. It was found that the most serious problem was the industrial waste which are reddish in colour, and exposed in many places.

Q: What are the pollution sources?

A: The site is a historical rubbish dumping site before 1970s. The pollution sources included municipal waste, hospital waste and industrial waste.

Q: Who is responsible to such pollution?

A: You had better ask Galway City Council. However, there were no environmental regulations when the rubbish was dumped. Nowadays,  you cannot dump your rubbish there.

Q: I have heard that the city is waiting for results of risk assessment. Why is risk assessment needed?

A: It is confirmed that the site is polluted by heavy metals. This only means that it is a "hazardous" site. Something hazardous may not be "risky" if there is no way for them to damage our health or the ecosystem. A risk assessment is needed to evaluate the pathways for the pollutants to reach us and how much damage the pollutants can cause to our human health and the surrounding environment.

Q: What should we do now?

A: Respect the warning messages from the local government, and wait for the results of risk assessment from them.

Q: Can I have a look at the results?

A: We are happy to share the information, and comments and suggestions are welcome. The results were presented at Environ 2007 Conference in Carlow, Jan. 26-28, 2007.

Draft presentation is available here

View the results in Google Earth (You need to have "Google Earth" installed on your computer to view.)


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Last update: 30/01/2007

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Contact: Dr. Chaosheng Zhang