Thallium phytoextraction and its economic significance: a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science at Massey University

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
Thallium is a volatile toxic metal which has many industrial uses. The sources of thallium include natural geochemical sources and by-products of industrial processes. One of the problems in assessing thallium pollution potential is the lack of an accurate method of quantification of this element. Flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS) is a good method of analysis but only down to the 1.0 mg/kg (ppm) level. For lower concentrations, analytical techniques have been difficult and inaccurate. A newly described method using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS) has been found useful for low T1 concentrations. A method was designed to detect low concentrations of thallium in plant and soil samples. The graphite furnace technique worked well for the data presented in this paper. However, samples of different origin could have more severe matrix effects such as high iron contents. Thallium has been found to be readily available for plant uptake. The extractability of thallium was significantly higher then other metals such as cadmium and zinc. This property is ideal when considering a possible phytoextraction operation. Two plant species were found to accumulate thallium to levels up to 411 mg/kg in Iberis intermedia and 504mg/kg in Biscutella laevigata. These high values indicate potential for phytoremediation and phytomining in areas of sufficient contamination. The properties of which make thallium an ideal candidate for phytoremediation also make the metal a high risk for biota. Experiments were also conducted to determine the partitioning and sequestration of thallium within plant organelles. This work was limited to the two hyperaccumulating species but future work could compare non-tolerant species. Evidence from this research might give a better understanding to the mechanism involved in plant uptake and storage of thallium. Agricultural crops used for human consumption or animal grazing may cause deleterious health effects. Thallium is extremely toxic, effecting the nervous system and impairing heart function at low levels. Higher concentrations will cause death. It is possible that some of the illness symptoms observed in humans may be derived from low levels of thallium in foodstuffs. Aside from a few economic mineral deposits, there is no information of a world-wide distribution of thallium, so health effects can not be accurately assessed. This thesis describes experiments carried out on common vegetable and their uptake of thallium to determine safe levels of this element within the soil. This information will also be useful to farmers growing crops on contaminated soil will advise them on which plants would uptake less thallium. Thallium has not been studied as extensively as many other heavy metals that are more common in the environment. Although the crustal abundance of thallium is low (0.49-0.7 mg/kg average range), the toxicity of this element is very high, and it is readily available for plant uptake. The toxic effects on animals and plants should be monitored closely.
Hyperaccumulator plants, Effect of heavy metals on plants, Metals -- Biocompatibility, Thallium