SEGH Articles

Geochemistry in Africa

26 January 2017
Read about VicFalls 2018 and fieldwork in the Copperbelt

Michael Watts and Elliott Hamilton returned to Africa to undertake two main tasks; (1) find a conference venue for the Society for Environmental Geochemistry 2018 international conference to be hosted in Victoria Falls, and (2) undertake fieldwork in the Zambian copperbelt as part of the Royal Society-DFID project (Royal Society-DFID project).

We met up with Dr Godfrey Sakala (Zambian Agriculture Research Institute) and Professor Florence Mtambanengwe (University of Zimbabwe) in Victoria Falls and viewed venues for hosting 150-200 people.  The location is ideally suited, with ample accommodation, conference facilities, transport connections, activities, is safe to walk around and of course the spectacle of Victoria Falls. The Falls are a must see and a gentle introduction to Africa for the uninitiated, with many National Parks close by in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.  A video was filmed to begin the promotion of the conference and signpost SEGH 2018 VicFalls which will appear on  shortly.

We moved onto Zambia with Dr Sakala and headed up to Kitwe in the Copperbelt to join Prof. Maseka from the Copperbelt University to follow up on previous field collections in Mugala village where field characterisation identified specific plots for experimental trials to investigate the influence of soil management strategies, such as organic incorporation, liming, low tillage (Conservation Agriculture) on the uptake of metals deposited through dust onto agricultural soils from nearby mine tailings.  Elliott Hamilton will explain more in a follow-up blog about his PhD and some of the findings so far.  Belinda Kaninga, one of our Royal Society-DFID PhD students has set out her first season field experiments as identified by the site characterisation and will bring the resultant soil and crop samples to BGS for analysis next May. 

Both Elliott and Belinda are using the same location for experimental trials, with Elliott focussing on the control parameters for Chromium (Cr) soil-to-crop transfer employing elemental speciation and isotope dilution for pot experiments using soil samples collected on this visit across the range of Cr concentrations and soil pH identified. These experiments will be undertaken at Sutton Bonington campus (University of Nottingham).  The processing of samples back in ZARI also allowed us to work with lab staff, review training needs and preparations for our upcoming purchase of Microwave-Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometers in each of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Belinda is investigating a broad panel of metals (Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Mn, Al, Ni) and the application of specific Conservation Agriculture methodologies and potential influence on the availability of metals for soil-to-plant uptake.  Belinda has conducted pot trials at the ZARI research station in Lusaka, but as mentioned, recently set up her field plots in collaboration with the village chief and local farmers which will run over two growing seasons.  

A further project was initiated with Prof. Maseka and Dr Sakala to investigate the potential exposure to metals from dust inhalation from the Mugala mine tailings in the nearby village, comparing pathways of exposure from environmental samples through to biological samples from a biomonitoring collection (urine, blood).  The focus of the project will be a two-year MSc project undertaken by Lukundo Nakaona, in collaboration with the CBU Department for Environmental and Agricultural Sciences and Medical School, ZARI and BGS-UoN (CEG).  There are many other possibilities for environmental-health exposure and food security studies with our close partners at ZARI, CBU and UNZA (University of Zambia).  In particular, scope for GCRF proposals to provide capacity strengthening in technical capability to cement the strong scientific activities of our partners both in Zambia, the wider Royal Society-DFID network in Zimbabwe and Malawi and with other partners in Kenya and Tanzania.

By Michael Watts, Elliott Hamilton, Belinda Kaninga, Kenneth Maseka and Godfrey Sakala

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Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Lead sorption characteristics of various chicken bone part-derived chars 2018-01-18


    Recycling food waste for beneficial use is becoming increasingly important in resource-limited economy. In this study, waste chicken bones of different parts from restaurant industry were pyrolyzed at 600 °C and evaluated for char physicochemical properties and Pb sorption characteristics. Lead adsorption isotherms by different chicken bone chars were carried out with initial Pb concentration range of 1–1000 mg L−1 at pH 5. The Pb adsorption data were better described by the Langmuir model (R2 = 0.9289–0.9937; ARE = 22.7–29.3%) than the Freundlich model (R2 = 0.8684–0.9544; ARE = 35.4–72.0%). Among the chars derived from different chicken bone parts, the tibia bone char exhibited the highest maximum Pb adsorption capacity of 263 mg g−1 followed by the pelvis (222 mg g−1), ribs (208 mg g−1), clavicle (179 mg g−1), vertebrae (159 mg g−1), and humerus (135 mg g−1). The Pb adsorption capacities were significantly and positively correlated with the surface area, phosphate release amount, and total phosphorus content of chicken bone chars (r ≥ 0.9711). On the other hand, approximately 75–88% of the adsorbed Pb on the chicken bone chars was desorbable with 0.1 M HCl, indicating their recyclability for reuse. Results demonstrated that chicken bone char could be used as an effective adsorbent for Pb removal in wastewater.

  • Occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and their associated environmental risks in a large shallow lake in north China 2018-01-13


    Eighteen selected pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), consisting of five non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals (N-APs), four sulfonamides (SAs), four tetracyclines (TCs), four macrolides (MCs), and one quinolone (QN) were detected in water, pore water, and sediment samples from Baiyangdian Lake, China. A total of 31 water samples and 29 sediment samples were collected in March 2017. Caffeine was detected with 100% frequency in surface water, pore water, and sediment samples. Carbamazepine was detected with 100% frequency in surface water and sediment samples. Five N-APs were prominent, with mean concentrations of 4.90–266.24 ng/l in surface water and 5.07–14.73 μg/kg in sediment samples. Four MCs were prominent, with mean concentrations of 0.97–29.92 ng/l in pore water samples. The total concentrations of the different classes of PPCPs followed the order: N-APs (53.26%) > MCs (25.39) > SAs (10.06%) > TCs (7.64%) > QNs (3.64%) in surface water; N-APs (42.70%) > MCs (25.43%) > TCs (14.69%) > SAs (13.90%) > QNs (3.24%) in sediment samples, and MCs (42.12%) > N-APs (34.80%) > SAs (11.71%) > TCs (7.48%) > QNs (3.88%) in pore water samples. The geographical differences of PPCP concentrations were largely due to anthropogenic activities. Sewage discharged from Baoding City and human activities around Baiyangdian Lake were the main sources of PPCPs in the lake. An environmental risk assessment for the upper quartile concentration was undertaken using calculated risk quotients and indicated a low or medium-high risk from 18 PPCPs in Baiyangdian Lake and its five upstream rivers.

  • Association of soil potassium and sodium concentrations with spatial disparities of prevalence and mortality rates of hypertensive diseases in the USA 2018-01-12


    Crop available soil potassium is generally low and on the decline in the southeastern states of the USA because of the increasing crop and runoff removal and decreasing application of potassium fertilizer. Hypertension-related mortality rates are also high in the southeastern states and are on the rise. Among 41 elements analyzed from 4856 sites across all 48 states, potassium is identified as the only independent element whose soil concentration has significant association with spatial disparities of essential hypertension and hypertension-related mortality rates in the 48 states between 1999 and 2014. Essential hypertension and hypertension-related mortality rates of the 6 states with the lowest soil potassium concentration are about 50–26% higher than that of the 6 states with the highest soil potassium concentration in the 48 states (RR: 1.50, 1.26, low CI 95% 1.47, 1.25 and upper CI 95% 1.53, 1.27, respectively). Though sodium was not identified as an independent factor, an apparent significant inverse correlation exists between hypertension prevalence rates and soil sodium concentration in the 48 states (r = − 0.66, p = 0.00). There likely has been a decline of potassium in USA produces per unit weight over time and a likely association between this decline and increasing hypertension rate, particularly in the southeastern states. Hence, results of this study suggest the need of increasing potassium intakes for reducing hypertension-related mortality rates in the southeastern states. Results of this study also support further examination of potential benefits of sodium from mixture of non-chloride salts in natural produces.