Document Type


Publication Date


Journal / Book Title

Science of the Total Environment


Identifying inorganic and organic soil contaminants in urban brownfields can give insights into the adverse effects of industrial activities on soil function, ecological health, and environmental quality. Liberty State Park in Jersey City (N.J., USA) once supported a major rail yard that had dock facilities for both cargo and passenger service; a portion remains closed to the public, and a forest developed and spread in this area. The objectives of this study were to: 1) characterize the organic and inorganic compounds in Liberty State Park soils and compare the findings to an uncontaminated reference site (Hutcheson Memorial Forest); and 2) identify differences between the barren low-functioning areas and the forested high-functioning areas of the brownfield. Soil samples were solvent-extracted, fractionated, and analyzed by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and subjected to loss-on-ignition, pyrolysis-gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry, and optical microscopy analyses. Compared to soil from the reference site, the forested soils in Liberty State Park contained elevated percentages of organic matter (30–45%) and more contaminants, such as fossil-fuel-derived hydrocarbons and coal particles. Microscopy revealed bituminous and anthracite coal, coke, tar/pitch, and ash particles. Barren and low-functioning site 25R had a similar organic contaminant profile but contained a higher metal load than other Liberty State Park sites and also lacked higher plant indicators. These can obscure the signatures of contaminants, and data from adjacent barren and vegetated sites are valuable references for soils studies. A deeper understanding of the chemistry, biochemistry, and ecology of barren soils can be leveraged to prevent land degradation and to restore dysfunctional and phytotoxic soils.


  • We characterized organic and inorganic substances at a major urban brownfield site
  • We detected abundant petroleum- and coal-derived biomarkers and PAHs in the soil
  • Both barren low-functioning and forested soils contained similar organic compounds
  • The barren site featured very high heavy metal loads and dormant microbial life
  • Chemical and ecological studies are critical to brownfield restoration efforts


Published Citation

Hagmann D.F., Kruge M.A., Cheung M., Mastalerz M., Gallego J.L.R., Singh J.P., Krumins J.A., Li X., Goodey N. (2019) Environmental forensic characterization of former rail yard soils located adjacent to the Statue of Liberty in the New York/New Jersey harbor. Science of the Total Environment 690:1019-1034.