SEGH Articles

SEGH2019 Prize Winners Series: Jon Connelly

19 August 2019
Jon Connelly, a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde, won the second-best ECR poster prize and shares a more detailed account of his study with us!

I am a chemistry PhD student at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, currently in my first year. I attained a BSc in chemistry from the University of Strathclyde in 2018. I was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife in Scotland in 1995 and then grew up in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire. Throughout my undergraduate degree I was always drawn to analytical chemistry. In my final year participated in a literature project on microplastics and became much more interested in environmental chemistry. Chemistry has been a passion of mine since my high school chemistry teacher made the subject so interesting. This has also made me interested in the communication and education of chemistry. 


Me presenting my poster at SEGH2019

Microplastic pollution has become a topic of major research within the scientific community recently. It is important to understand the interactions these microplastic pollutants have with the environment. It is known that potentially toxic elements (PTE’s) can adsorb onto both weathered and virgin (newly produced) pellets. The mechanism by which this occurs is not well understood. Research presented at the conference was on the weathering of virgin pellets. Pellets of polycarbonate, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene and polystyrene were subjected to different types of weathering conditions that pellets would experience in the marine environment. An Atlas SUNTEST XLS+ weatherometer was used to simulate the sunlight conditions a plastic pellet would experience when floating on the surface of the ocean. A solution of Lake products Co SEA SALT (ASTM D-1141-98) was made and sand was added. This was to simulate the chemical and physical abrasion conditions that a pellet would encounter submerged in seawater and interacting with particulate matter. Pellets were added to this mixture and shaken. When analysed by attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy the virgin pellets showed some sign of oxidation having already occurred. The pellets subjected to artificial sunlight showed the most weathering as evident from increased oxidation when analysed by ATR-FTIR. The pellets subjected to seawater and physical abrasion showed some signs of change but not as much compared with artificial sunlight. Visible changes also occurred with yellowing and cracking occurring to the pellets. Future work aims to look at the PTE content of virgin plastic pellets, sorption of PTE’s to the surface of both weathered and virgin pellets.


Virgin polyethylene pellets (top), Polycarbonate before and after weathering (middle and right, respectively)

It was a great experience presenting my poster at the SEGH conference in Manchester. It was interesting seeing the breadth of research being carried out in the area of environmental geochemistry and health. The plenary talks each day were all interesting and covered a wide range of topics. The chance to participate in the MetMUnch workshop on sustainable nutrition was interesting and has made me think about my food consumption and food waste. I heard and read some very interesting and thought-provoking oral presentations and poster presentations. The chance to talk to my peers and experts in my field was great and gave me lots of ideas for my future research. The chance to socialise with conference attendees provided a nice environment to discuss ideas further with delegates. This was my first ever conference and the whole experience has been amazing.

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

  • Earthworms and vermicompost: an eco-friendly approach for repaying nature’s debt 2020-01-23


    The steady increase in the world’s population has intensified the need for crop productivity, but the majority of the agricultural practices are associated with adverse effects on the environment. Such undesired environmental outcomes may be mitigated by utilizing biological agents as part of farming practice. The present review article summarizes the analyses of the current status of global agriculture and soil scenarios; a description of the role of earthworms and their products as better biofertilizer; and suggestions for the rejuvenation of such technology despite significant lapses and gaps in research and extension programs. By maintaining a close collaboration with farmers, we have recognized a shift in their attitude and renewed optimism toward nature-based green technology. Based on these relations, it is inferred that the application of earthworm-mediated vermitechnology increases sustainable development by strengthening the underlying economic, social and ecological framework.

    Graphic abstract

  • Plasticizers and bisphenol A in Adyar and Cooum riverine sediments, India: occurrences, sources and risk assessment 2020-01-23


    Adyar and Cooum, the two rivers intersecting Chennai city, are exposed to serious pollution due to the release of large quantities of dumped waste, untreated wastewater and sewage. Sediments can act as repository for emerging organic contaminants. Hence, we have monitored the occurrence and risk associated with plasticizers [six phthalic acid esters (PAEs), bis(2-ethyl hexyl adipate) (DEHA)] and bisphenol A (BPA) in surface riverine sediments of Adyar and Cooum rivers from residential/commercial, industrial and electronic waste recycling sites. Σ7plasticizers (PAEs + DEHA) in the Adyar riverine sediment (ARS) and Cooum riverine sediment (CRS) varied between 51.82–1796 and 28.13–856 ng/g, respectively. More than three-fourth of Σ7plasticizers came from bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), in accordance with the high production and usage of this compound. BPA varied between 10.70–2026 and 7.58–1398 ng/g in ARS and CRS, respectively. Average concentrations of plasticizers and BPA were four times higher in electronic waste (e-waste) recycling sites when compared with industrial and residential/commercial sites. BPA and DEHP showed a strong and significant correlation (R2 = 0.7; p < 0.01) in the e-waste sites thereby indicating common source types. Sites present at close proximity to raw sewage pumping stations contributed to 70% of the total BPA observed in this study. For the derived pore water concentration of plasticizers and BPA, the ecotoxicological risk has been found to be higher in ARS over CRS. However, sediment concentrations in all the sites of ARS and CRS were much below the recommended serious risk concentration for human (SRChuman) and serious risk concentration for ecotoxicological (SRCeco).

  • Distribution of metal(loid)s in particle size fraction in urban soil and street dust: influence of population density 2020-01-18


    Assessment of street dust is an invaluable approach for monitoring atmospheric pollution. Little information is available on the size distribution of contaminants in street dusts and urban soils, and it is not known how the population density would influence them. This research was carried out to assess the size distribution of trace metal(loid)s in street dust and urban soil, and to understand how population density might influence the size-resolved concentration of metal(loid)s. Three urban areas with a high, medium and low population density and a natural area were selected and urban soil and street dust sampled. They were fractionated into 8 size fractions: 2000–850, 850–180, 180–106, 106–50, 50–20, 20–10, 10–2, and < 2 µm. The concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, Cr, Ni, As, and Fe was determined, and enrichment factor and grain size fraction loadings were computed. The results indicated that the concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, and Cr was highly size dependent, particularly for particles < 100 µm, especially for street dust. Low concentrations of Ni and As in street dust and urban soil were size and population density independent. Higher size dependency of the metals concentration and the higher degree of elemental enrichment in the street dust fractions than the urban soils indicate higher contribution of human-induced pollution to the dust. Findings also confirm the inevitability of size fractionation when soils or dusts are environmentally assessed, particularly in moderately to highly polluted areas. Otherwise, higher concentrations of certain pollutants in fine-sized particles might be overlooked leading to inappropriate decisions for environmental remediation.