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  http://segh.net/events/  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

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

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

  • Date palm waste biochars alter a soil respiration, microbial biomass carbon, and heavy metal mobility in contaminated mined soil 2017-04-19

    Abstract

    A 30-day incubation experiment was conducted using a heavy metal-contaminated mined soil amended with date palm feedstock (FS) and its derivative biochars (BCs) at three pyrolysis temperatures of 300 (BC-300), 500 (BC-500), and 700 °C (BC-700) with different application rates (0.0, 5, 15, and 30 g kg−1) to investigate their short-term effects on soil respiration (CO2–C efflux), microbial biomass carbon (MBC), soil organic carbon (SOC), mobile fraction of heavy metals (Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn, Mn, and Fe), pH, and electrical conductivity (EC). The results showed that FS and BC-300 with increasing addition rate significantly reduced soil pH, whereas SOC, CO2–C efflux, and soil MBC were increased compared to the control. On the contrary, BC-500 and BC-700 increased soil pH at early stage of incubation and have small or no effects on SOC, CO2–C efflux, and MBC. Based on the results, the date palm biochars exhibited much lower cumulative CO2–C efflux than feedstock, even with low-temperature biochar, indicating that BCs have C sequestration potential. Applying BC-700 at 15 and 30 g kg−1 significantly reduced cumulative CO2–C efflux by 21.8 and 45.4% compared to the control, respectively. The incorporation of FS into contaminated soil significantly increased the mobile content of Cd and Mn, but decreased the mobile content of Cu. However, BC-300 significantly reduced the mobile content of Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn. It could be concluded that low-temperature biochar could be used as a soil amendment for reducing heavy metal mobility in mining contaminated soil in addition to minimize soil CO2–C efflux.

  • Historical record of anthropogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a lake sediment from the southern Tibetan Plateau 2017-04-17

    Abstract

    High-altitude lake sediments can be used as natural archives to reconstruct the history of pollutants. In this work, the temporal distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was determined in a sediment core collected from the southern Tibetan Plateau (TP), which was dated by using the 210Pb dating method and validated with the 137Cs fallout peak. The concentrations of the anthropogenic PAHs (Σ8PAH) in the sediment core ranged from 0.83 to 12 ng/g dw, and the fluxes of the Σ8PAH were in the range of 2.1–27 g/cm2/year. The temporal variations in the concentration and input flux of anthropogenic PAHs were low with little variability before the 1950s, and then gradually increased from the 1950s to the 1980s, and an accelerated increase was observed after the early 1980s. The content of total organic carbon played an insignificant role in affecting the time trends of PAHs in the sediment core. Diagnostic concentration fractions of PAH components indicate PAHs in the lake sediment of the southern TP which are mainly from biomass burning and/or from long-range atmospheric transport.

  • Determination of the potential implementation impact of 2016 ministry of environmental protection generic assessment criteria for potentially contaminated sites in China 2017-04-12

    Abstract

    The Ministry of Environmental Protection of China issued a 3rd draft edition of risk-based Generic Assessment Criteria (the MEP-GAC) in March 2016. Since these will be the first authoritative GAC in China, their implementation is likely to have a significant impact on China’s growing contaminated land management sector. This study aims to determine the potential implementation impact of the MEP-GAC through an in-depth analysis of the management context, land use scenarios, health criteria values adopted and exposure pathways considered. The MEP-GAC have been proposed for two broad categories of land use scenarios for contaminated land risk assessment, and these two categories of land use scenarios need to be further delved, and a MEP-GAC for Chinese cultivated land scenario ought to be developed, to ensure human health protection of Chinese farmers. The MEP-GAC have adopted 10−6 as the acceptable lifetime cancer risk, given the widespread extent and severe level of land contamination in China, consideration should be given to the decision on excess lifetime cancer risk of 10−5. During risk assessment process in practice, it is better to review the 20% TDI against local circumstances to determine their suitability before adopting it. The MEP-GAC are based on a SOM value of 1%, for regions with particularly high SOM, it might be necessary to develop regional GAC, due to SOM’s significant impact on the GAC developed. An authoritative risk assessment model developed based on HJ25.3-2014 would help facilitate the DQRA process in practice. The MEP-GAC could better reflect the likely exposures of China’s citizens due to vapour inhalation by using characteristics of Chinese exposure scenarios, including China-generic building stock, as inputs into the Johnson and Ettinger model as opposed to adoption of the US EPA parameters. The MEP-GAC once implemented will set the trajectory for the development of the investigation, assessment and remediation of land contamination for years.