SEGH Articles

Michael Watts elected SEGH President

10 October 2017
Dr Michael Watts was recently elected SEGH President, following a handover from Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Michael has been involved in the SEGH for nearly 15 years as a member of the European board and active on the International board via his role in redesigning the website since 2010.

Dr Michael Watts was recently elected SEGH President, following a handover from Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Michael has been involved in the SEGH for nearly 15 years as a member of the European board and active on the International board via his role in redesigning the website since 2010.

Dr Michael Watts is the Head of Inorganic Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey. He has a team of geochemists and analytical chemists, supporting a suite of geochemistry laboratories and leading on environmental geochemistry projects in the UK and overseas, particularly in Africa. These projects involve investigations that span pollutant pathways from source through to human biomonitoring and ecological hazard assessment; micronutrient pathways from soil-crop-diet-health, with both aspects seeking better knowledge of geochemical controls on mobility/biovailability of micronutrients and potentially harmful elements through to measures of health status. Activities often link with industry, overseas governments, regulatory bodies or academia, in particular through a joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry with the University of Nottingham.

We take the opportunity to ask a few questions of Michael to gain an insight into his experience as an environmental scientist, member of SEGH and his hopes for the future of SEGH.

What are your hopes for the future of SEGH and how do you intend to lead the SEGH forward as the new President?

Firstly, I would like to thank Dr Chaosheng Zhang for his steering of SEGH through a period of significant change, including revision and acceptance by the international board for the revised constitution and strategy to make SEGH ‘fit for purpose’ for the future. 

SEGH faces many challenges, namely competition from numerous societies, financial constraints for members, maintaining representation for members equitably across each region and financial pressures to remain relevant e.g. maintaining web interaction, communications and relevancy to PhD students and early career scientists. Young scientists will be increasingly discerning in choosing which societies to become involved in and spend their money on subscriptions. The SEGH board will need to constantly question what the member is gaining.  This will need to include better communication with members, whether through web interaction, web articles or the like, which has been particularly poor in recent years. This could become part of the terms of reference that board members sign up to and agree to actively participate and drive SEGH forward, seek out new opportunities, gauge the current themes relevant to SEGH and encourage young scientists to join SEGH. Some ideas under discussion have included a form of fellowship for the mentoring of members, which should form part of a wider consultation with the membership.

SEGH is at the cusp of consolidating on its reach across the regions, with good knowledge of web traffic driving emphasis on developing and renewing sections.  For example, a section for Africa will be developed in the next year leading up to the conference in Victoria Falls in July 2018. Whilst web traffic has increased significantly in Africa, this has also been the case in the Indian sub-continent which needs further attention for the Asia/Pacific section.  Interaction via the web and membership numbers has fallen away in Southern America, which will need to be addressed by the Americas regional section.  European membership and web traffic has remained strong and diversified in recent years. We will still need to maintain our efforts in this area, particularly eastern and southern Europe which has experienced financial instability in recent years.  Innovative ideas will be required, whether this is via web communications, hosting of small local symposia or online groups, with an emphasis on keeping costs down to ensure affordability for members. SEGH has been successful in running conferences each year that bring together early, mid and late career scientists to share their research and experience.  SEGH has been very good at fostering new talent, but how could we do this better with an increasingly interconnected world?  Should we be considering other platforms to supplement and reinforce the traditional conference schedule? This is a point where we need to engage with members for fresh ideas.

What do you think are the major scientific issues facing the society’s areas of research and could SEGH take a lead role in these?

The major theme for SEGH is still the interdisciplinary nature of the society in linking through from environmental studies to the health of humans, animals, wildlife and wider ecological contexts. There has been patchy success over the years and perhaps SEGH will continue to struggle to link directly with medical practitioners. However, there are examples of inter-disciplinary research linked through epidemiologists, public/animal health professionals and regulatory bodies. Further efforts are required to draw in members from these areas, but also improve the relevancy of research by drawing in socio-economic skills to better demonstrate pathways to impact to justify research expenditure. SEGH has a unique platform to link such disciplines. SEGH also has the potential to facilitate members in working through Official Development Assistance programmes targeting the United Nations Strategic Development Goals (SDG), of which there are 17(http://segh.net/articles/geology_for_global_development_gfgd/ ), the majority of which SEGH members research most likely overlaps. Enormous sums of money are being spent to target the SDG’s, SEGH has a potential role to play in ensuring funds are spent wisely, researchers are connected for funding proposals for sustainable development opportunities.  We have seen a little more diversity of the use of technologies in research particularly at Brussels 2015, such as biomarker research. A future challenge will be for the transfer of technologies ‘fit for purpose’ for researchers in Lower Middle income Countries (LMIC) who often only lack technical capacity to engage equally in international research programmes, rather than samples disappearing to the so-called developed world for data outputs.

During your scientific career, how was your membership of SEGH benefited you personally? What do you are the advantages of early – mid – late career scientists joining SEGH?

I joined SEGH in 2002/03 and attended my first conference in Glasgow where I was buttonholed at the bar to see if I would be interested in joining the SEGH board as ‘new blood’. Both as a member attending meetings and as a board member I have made like-minded friends, many of whom in the early days provided some form of mentorship, linking me with appropriate researchers who were also trying to work in the gap between environment and health sciences. Some of these links progressed through to funded projects and publications, helping me to get my research career kick-started. Certainly having independent and outside research links via SEGH has helped my career at BGS, but has also enriched my understanding of inter-disciplinary research. I think this continues to be the case for mid and late career scientists, with SEGH providing a friendly environment to reinforce relationships and develop new links as scientific research questions and priorities evolve. I am probably in the mid-career phase and seeing students present research is also very rewarding, students and early career scientists are generally where the cutting edge research is taking place as they have the time to focus before other responsibilities start to soak up time. As already mentioned, as long as I have been involved, SEGH has placed emphasis on giving young and new scientists an opportunity to present their research. This is not always the case at other meetings and is an aspect of SEGH we should strive to protect.

By Dr Daniel Middleton

SEGH webmaster

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

  • Geochemistry of uranium and thorium in phosphate deposits at the Syrian coastal area (Al-Haffah and Al-Qaradaha) and their environmental impacts 2019-03-16

    Abstract

    The aim of this research was to study the geochemistry of uranium and thorium in phosphate deposits in the upper Cretaceous phosphate deposits in the Syrian coastal area. The study covered three sites, namely Ain Al-Tenah, Ain Laylon, and Al-Mhalbeh. Petrographical study showed that phosphate deposits are of nodular type with micrit to microspaite cement, containing siliceous bone residues, and green grains of glauconite, which are increasing in abundance and volume in the south toward Al-Mhalbeh, reflecting the formation of phosphate in a shallow marine environment. In addition, uranium concentration varied between 3 and 112 ppm in Ain Laylon, 4.2–17 ppm in Ain Al-Tenah and 5–61 ppm in Al-Mhalbeh. Thorium concentration varied between 0.2 and 7.5 ppm in Ain Laylon, 0.3–1.4 ppm in Ain Al-Tenah and 0.3–4.4 ppm in Al-Mhalbeh. The average Th/U ratio in the collected samples was within the range 0.04–0.08 except for five samples which exceeded the value 0.1. Moreover, the 226Ra/238U ratios are lower than unity in all samples, while the 210Pb/238U ratios ranged between 0.4 and 1.2 and the 210Pb/226Ra ratios were found to be higher than unity. On the other hand, the impact of leaching and mobility of uranium and thorium from deposits to the surrounding agriculture fields in the area has been studied using the Radium Equivalent Activity Index (Raeq). The equivalent radium activity was 102 Bq kg−1 in Ain Al-Tenah, 403 Bq kg−1 in Ain Laylon, 407 Bq kg−1 in Al-Mhalbeh and 749 Bq kg−1 in agricultural soil samples. However, the data reported in this study can be considered as a baseline data for the phosphate deposits at the coastal area.

  • Measurement of radon, thoron and their daughters in the air of marble factories and resulting alpha-radiation doses to the lung of workers 2019-03-15

    Abstract

    Concentrations of radon (222Rn) and thoron (220Rn) were measured in the air of different marble factories by using a nuclear track technique. The influence of the marble dust nature and ventilation on radon and thoron concentrations was investigated. It was observed that measured radon and thoron concentration ranged from 310 to 903 Bq m−3 and 6 to 48 Bq m−3, respectively. In addition, alpha-activities due to the unattached and attached fractions of 218Po and 214Po radon short-lived progeny were evaluated in the marble factories studied. Committed equivalent doses due to the attached and unattached fractions of 218Po and 214Po nuclei were evaluated in the lung tissues of marble factory workers. The dependence of the resulting committed equivalent dose on the concentration of the attached and unattached fractions of the 218Po and 214Po radionuclides and mass of the tissue was investigated. The resulting annual committed effective doses to the lung of marble factory workers due to the attached and unattached fractions of the 218Po and 214Po radionuclides were calculated. The obtained results show that about 80% of the global committed effective doses received by workers in the studied marble factories are due to the attached fraction of the 218Po and 214Po radon short-lived daughters from the inhalation of polluted air. Male workers spending 8 h per day (2080 h per year) in a marble factory receive a maximum dose of 34.46 mSv y−1 which is higher than the (3–10 mSv y−1) dose limit interval given by the ICRP. Good agreement was found between data obtained for the average effective dose gotten by using this method and the UNSCEAR and ICRP conversion dose coefficients.

  • Quantitative health risk assessment of inhalation exposure to automobile foundry dust 2019-03-14

    Abstract

    With a growing awareness of environmental protection, the dust pollution caused by automobile foundry work has become a serious and urgent problem. This study aimed to explore contamination levels and health effects of automobile foundry dust. A total of 276 dust samples from six types of work in an automobile foundry factory were collected and analysed using the filter membrane method. Probabilistic risk assessment model was developed for evaluating the health risk of foundry dust on workers. The health risk and its influencing factors among workers were then assessed by applying the Monte Carlo method to identify the most significant parameters. Health damage assessment was conducted to translate health risk into disability-adjusted life year (DALY). The results revealed that the mean concentration of dust on six types of work ranged from 1.67 to 5.40 mg/m3. The highest health risks to be come from melting, cast shakeout and finishing, followed by pouring, sand preparation, moulding and core-making. The probability of the risk exceeding 10−6 was approximately 85%, 90%, 90%, 75%, 70% and 45%, respectively. The sensitivity analysis indicated that average time, exposure duration, inhalation rate and dust concentration (C) made great contribution to dust health risk. Workers exposed to cast shakeout and finishing had the largest DALY of 48.64a. These results can further help managers to fully understand the dust risks on various types of work in the automobile foundry factories and provide scientific basis for the management and decision-making related to health damage assessment.