It is generally assumed that declining atmospheric lead concentrations in urban centers during the 1970s and 1980s were due almost entirely to the progressive introduction of unleaded gasoline. However, most environmental data are from monitoring programs that began only two to three decades ago, which limits their usefulness. Here, trace metal and radionuclide data from sediment cores in Central Park Lake provide a record of atmospheric pollutant deposition in New York City through the 20th century, which suggests that leaded gasoline combustion was not the dominant source of atmospheric lead for NYC. Lead deposition rates, normalized to known Pb-210 atmospheric influxes, were extremely high, reaching maximum values (>70 mu g cm(-2) yr(-1)) from the late 1930s to early 1960s, decades before maximum emissions from combustion of leaded gasoline. Temporal trends of lead, zinc, and tin deposition derived from the lake sediments closely resemble the history of solid waste incineration in New York City. Furthermore, widespread use of solid waste incinerators in the United States and Europe over the last century suggests that solid waste incineration may have provided the dominant source of atmospheric lead and several other metals to many urban centers.
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