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Analysis of metals leached from smoked cigarette litter
  1. J W Moerman1,
  2. G E Potts2
  1. 1School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  2. 2Department of Chemistry, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gretchen E Potts, Department of Chemistry, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 615 McCallie Avenue, #2252, Chattanooga, TN 37403, USA; gretchen-potts{at}


Background Littered cigarette butts represent potential point sources for environmental contamination. In areas with substantial amounts of cigarette litter, environmental hazards may arise as chemical components are leached from the filters and smoked tobacco.

Objective The three main aims of this study were: (1) to quantify the amount of Al, Ba, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Pb, Mn, Ni, Sr, Ti and Zn leached from cigarette butts, (2) to determine the relationship between the pH of the aqueous soaking solution and metal concentration leached and (3) to determine the relationship between the period of soaking in aqueous solution and metal concentration leached.

Methods Smoked cigarette butts and unsmoked cigarettes were added to phials containing aqueous solutions of pH 4.00, 5.00 and 6.00 (±0.05). The metal concentration of the resultant leachates was measured via inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) 1 day, 7 days and 34 days after sample addition.

Results All metals were detected in leachates 1 day after sample addition (with the exception of Cd) and were released at varying rates. No clear relationship between pH within the range typical of precipitation and metal concentration leached was observed.

Conclusions Based on the gradual release of multiple metals over the full 34-day study period, cigarette litter was found to be a point source for metal contamination. The apparent rapid leaching of other metals may increase the risk of acute harm to local organisms.

  • Trace metals
  • cigarette butts
  • litter
  • emission spectroscopy
  • environmental analysis
  • environment

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  • Funding This research was funded by the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Department of Chemistry and the University of Chattanooga (UC) Foundation.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.