SEGH Articles

SEGH 2014 Conference Report

08 September 2014
Northumbria University welcomed over 120 delegates from over 25 countries to SEGH 2014.


Northumbria University welcomed over 120 delegates from over 25 countries to SEGH2014. The meeting attracted delegates from across Europe, but also further afield from the USA, Mexico, Canada, Pakistan, Vietnam, Namibia and Nigeria, to hear the 51 papers and 40 posters presented. Human impacts on our atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere were discussed over the five days, with the linkages between human health and the environment a central focus.

In the opening session on ‘Air & Dust Pollution and Human Health’, Professor Frank Kelly (King’s College London), gave a timely and considered overview of the PM (particulate matter) burden to which populations are exposed and recent developments in evidence of how PM2.5 elicit health effects in humans. The subsequent session speakers considered how we detect, assess, model and practically tackle air pollution.

The session on ‘Environmental Iodine and the Deficiency Disorders’ generated a lively and stimulating set of papers and posters covering our current environmental knowledge and health perceptions, and highlighted ‘myths, misunderstandings and deficiencies’ along with further research needs.

As part of a special session on ‘Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and health’ we heard a thought-provoking set of interlinked talks given by Professor Mike Stephenson (British Geological Survey), Professor Fred Worrall (Durham University), and Mr Robie Kamanyire (Public Health England). Current concerns raised in the media about the process of hydraulic fracturing were examined and discussed along with the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction.

The central themes of risk, exposure assessment, bioavailability and bioaccessibility were explored over two days of sessions. Keynotes were given by Dr Frank Swartjes (National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands) and Professor Steven Sicilliano (University of Saskatchewan, Canada).  These talks, along with many of the session presenters, explored how the chemical and physical properties of soil influence the movement of pollutants from the environment into our bodies. Arsenic and Pb provided the main focus for a number of speakers, but Cd, Cu, Mg, Hg, V, along with Benzo[a]pyrene and a range of other PHEs, were also considered.   

The Conference Dinner, a Northumbrian-themed evening with local food and local music, took place in the Great Hall at Jesmond Dene House, and was attended by over 60 delegates. Photographs, taken by Ms Rosina Leonard, Geological Survey of Namibia, are available on line at Click here to view SEGH 2014

Thank you Rosina!

Finally, at the end of the week a few hardy (although they didn't realise this at the time!) delegates joined Mr Phil Hartley (Newcastle City Council) and Ms Lesley Dunlop (Northumbria University) to explore of the North-East’s industrial history and cultural heritage. However, after an amazing week of unusually good British ‘summer’ weather (yes sunshine and no rain on every day prior to the fieldtrip) our luck ran out.

Hadrian’s Wall at Cawfields. A stretch of Hadrian's Wall on a steep slope, with turrets and an impressive milecastle, probably built by the Second Legion.





But we donned hard hats, wellington boots and head torches to venture into Killhope lead mine. The mine owners hope everyone has now warmed up and dried out again! 

Killhope Lead Mine, Cowshill, Co. Durham

So just a final thank you to all who participated in SEGH 2014, and to the many new society members. Northumbria University looks forward to welcoming you to Newcastle again – but in the meantime we hope to see many of you in Bratislava in June 2015.  See for details.



by Jane Entwistle

(SEGH Chair 2014)

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

  • Ecological impact of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin on microbial community of aerobic activated sludge 2019-08-16


    This study investigated the effects and fate of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (CIP) at environmentally relevant levels (50–500 µg/L) in activated sludge (AS) microbial communities under aerobic conditions. Exposure to 500 µg/L of CIP decreased species diversity by about 20% and significantly altered the phylogenetic structure of AS communities compared to those of control communities (no CIP exposure), while there were no significant changes upon exposure to 50 µg/L of CIP. Analysis of community composition revealed that exposure to 500 µg/L of CIP significantly reduced the relative abundance of Rhodobacteraceae and Nakamurellaceae by more than tenfold. These species frequently occur in AS communities across many full-scale wastewater treatment plants and are involved in key ecosystem functions (i.e., organic matter and nitrogen removal). Our analyses showed that 50–500 µg/L CIP was poorly removed in AS (about 20% removal), implying that the majority of CIP from AS processes may be released with either their effluents or waste sludge. We therefore strongly recommend further research on CIP residuals and/or post-treatment processes (e.g., anaerobic digestion) for waste streams that may cause ecological risks in receiving water bodies.

  • Source and background threshold values of potentially toxic elements in soils by multivariate statistics and GIS-based mapping: a high density sampling survey in the Parauapebas basin, Brazilian Amazon 2019-08-10


    A high-density regional-scale soil geochemical survey comprising 727 samples (one sample per each 5 × 5 km grid) was carried out in the Parauapebas sub-basin of the Brazilian Amazonia, under the Itacaiúnas Basin Geochemical Mapping and Background Project. Samples were taken from two depths at each site: surface soil, 0–20 cm and deep soil, 30–50 cm. The ground and sieved (< 75 µm) fraction was digested using aqua regia and analyzed for 51 elements by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS). All data were used here, but the principal focus was on the potential toxic elements (PTEs) and Fe and Mn to evaluate the spatial distribution patterns and to establish their geochemical background concentrations in soils. Geochemical maps as well as principal component analysis (PCA) show that the distribution patterns of the elements are very similar between surface and deep soils. The PCA, applied on clr-transformed data, identified four major associations: Fe–Ti–V–Sc–Cu–Cr–Ni (Gp-1); Zr–Hf–U–Nb–Th–Al–P–Mo–Ga (Gp-2); K–Na–Ca–Mg–Ba–Rb–Sr (Gp-3); and La–Ce–Co–Mn–Y–Zn–Cd (Gp-4). Moreover, the distribution patterns of elements varied significantly among the three major geological domains. The whole data indicate a strong imprint of local geological setting in the geochemical associations and point to a dominant geogenic origin for the analyzed elements. Copper and Fe in Gp-1 were enriched in the Carajás basin and are associated with metavolcanic rocks and banded-iron formations, respectively. However, the spatial distribution of Cu is also highly influenced by two hydrothermal mineralized copper belts. Ni–Cr in Gp-1 are highly correlated and spatially associated with mafic and ultramafic units. The Gp-2 is partially composed of high field strength elements (Zr, Hf, Nb, U, Th) that could be linked to occurrences of A-type Neoarchean granites. The Gp-3 elements are mobile elements which are commonly found in feldspars and other rock-forming minerals being liberated by chemical weathering. The background threshold values (BTV) were estimated separately for surface and deep soils using different methods. The ‘75th percentile’, which commonly used for the estimation of the quality reference values (QRVs) following the Brazilian regulation, gave more restrictive or conservative (low) BTVs, while the ‘MMAD’ was more realistic to define high BTVs that can better represent the so-called mineralized/normal background. Compared with CONAMA Resolution (No. 420/2009), the conservative BTVs of most of the toxic elements were below the prevention limits (PV), except Cu, but when the high BTVs are considered, Cu, Co, Cr and Ni exceeded the PV limits. The degree of contamination (Cdeg), based on the conservative BTVs, indicates low contamination, except in the Carajás basin, which shows many anomalies and had high contamination mainly from Cu, Cr and Ni, but this is similar between surface and deep soils indicating that the observed high anomalies are strictly related to geogenic control. This is supported when the Cdeg is calculated using the high BTVs, which indicates low contamination. This suggests that the use of only conservative BTVs for the entire region might overestimate the significance of anthropogenic contamination; thus, we suggest the use of high BTVs for effective assessment of soil contamination in this region. The methodology and results of this study may help developing strategies for geochemical mapping in other Carajás soils or in other Amazonian soils with similar characteristics.

  • Uptake of Cd, Pb, and Ni by Origanum syriacum produced in Lebanon 2019-08-06


    Trace metals are found naturally in soil. However, the increase in industrial and agricultural polluting activities has increased trace metal contamination and raised high concerns in the public health sector. The study was conducted on Origanum syriacum, one of the most consumed herbs in the Middle East, and was divided into three parts. (1) Pot experiment: to study the effect of Cd, Pb, or Ni levels in soil on their uptake by O. syriacum. (2) Field samples: collected from major agricultural regions in Lebanon to analyze Cd, Pb, and Ni concentrations in soil and leaves. (3) Sale outlets samples: to measure the levels of Cd, Pb, and Ni in O. syriacum tissues in the market. Results showed that there was a positive correlation between levels of Cd, Pb, and Ni in soil and those in O. syriacum tissues. None of the field samples contained Pb or Ni that exceeded the maximum allowable limits (MAL). Three samples collected from heavily poultry-manured soil contained Cd higher than the MAL. Samples collected from sale outlets did not exceed the MAL for Ni but two exceeded the MAL for Cd and one for Pb. Trace metal contamination is not a major concern in O. syriacum produced in Lebanon. Only one mixture sample from a sale outlet was higher in Pb than the MAL and three samples from heavily manured fields exceeded the MAL for Cd.