Surface and Airborne Arsenic Concentrations in a Recreational Site near Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Dirk Goossens, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Brenda J. Buck, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Elevated concentrations of arsenic, up to 7058 μg g-1 in topsoil and bedrock, and more than 0.03 μg m-3 in air on a 2-week basis, were measured in the Nellis Dunes Recreation Area (NDRA), a very popular off-road area near Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The elevated arsenic concentrations in the topsoil and bedrock are correlated to outcrops of yellow sandstone belonging to the Muddy Creek Formation (≈ 10 to 4 Ma) and to faults crossing the area. Mineralized fluids moved to the surface through the faults and deposited the arsenic. A technique was developed to calculate airborne arsenic concentrations from the arsenic content in the topsoil. The technique was tested by comparing calculated with measured concentrations at 34 locations in the NDRA, for 3 periods of 2 weeks each. We then applied it to calculate airborne arsenic concentrations for more than 500 locations all over the NDRA. The highest airborne arsenic concentrations occur over sand dunes and other zones with a surficial layer of aeolian sand. Ironically these areas show the lowest levels of arsenic in the topsoil. However, they are highly susceptible to wind erosion and emit very large amounts of sand and dust during episodes of strong winds, thereby also emitting much arsenic. Elsewhere in the NDRA, in areas not or only very slightly affected by wind erosion, airborne arsenic levels equal the background level for airborne arsenic in the USA, approximately 0.0004 μg m-3. The results of this study are important because the NDRA is visited by more than 300,000 people annually.