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

  • Geophagy among East African Chimpanzees: consumed soils provide protection from plant secondary compounds and bioavailable iron 2019-12-01


    Geophagy, the intentional consumption of earth materials, has been recorded in humans and other animals. It has been hypothesized that geophagy is an adaptive behavior, and that clay minerals commonly found in eaten soil can provide protection from toxins and/or supplement micronutrients. To test these hypotheses, we monitored chimpanzee geophagy using camera traps in four permanent sites at the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, from October 2015–October 2016. We also collected plants, and soil chimpanzees were observed eating. We analyzed 10 plant and 45 soil samples to characterize geophagic behavior and geophagic soil and determine (1) whether micronutrients are available from the soil under physiological conditions and if iron is bioavailable, (2) the concentration of phenolic compounds in plants, and (3) if consumed soils are able to adsorb these phenolics. Chimpanzees ate soil and drank clay-infused water containing 1:1 and 2:1 clay minerals and > 30% sand. Under physiological conditions, the soils released calcium, iron, and magnesium. In vitro Caco-2 experiments found that five times more iron was bioavailable from three of four soil samples found at the base of trees. Plant samples contained approximately 60 μg/mg gallic acid equivalent. Soil from one site contained 10 times more 2:1 clay minerals, which were better at removing phenolics present in their diet. We suggest that geophagy may provide bioavailable iron and protection from phenolics, which have increased in plants over the last 20 years. In summary, geophagy within the Sonso community is multifunctional and may be an important self-medicative behavior.

  • Accumulation of uranium and heavy metals in the soil–plant system in Xiazhuang uranium ore field, Guangdong Province, China 2019-12-01


    Plants that have grown for many years in the special environmental conditions prevailing in mining areas are naturally screened and show strong capacity to adapt to their environment. The present study investigated the enrichment characteristics of U and other heavy metals (As, Cu, Pb, Mn, Mo, Zn, Cd, Co, and Ni) in the soil–plant system in Xiazhuang uranium mine. Four dominant plants (Castanopsis carlesii, Rhus chinensis, Liriodendron chinense, and Sapium discolor) and soil samples were collected from the mined areas, unmined areas, and background areas away from the ore field. U, As, Cu, Pb, Mn, Mo, Zn, Cd, Co, and Ni concentrations were analyzed by ICP-MS. The results demonstrate that (1) The highest concentrations of U (4.1–206.9 mg/kg) and Pb (43.3–126.0 mg/kg) with the geoaccumulation index (Igeo) greater than 1 show that they are the main soil pollutants in the research area. (2) The biological accumulation coefficient (LBAC) values for Cd, Mn, and Cu are greater than zero in S. discolor, L. chinense, and C. carlesii and these three plants indicate that they can be used for remediation of the soil in the ore field. (3) R. chinensis inhibits the accumulation of heavy metals and shows sensitive pigment responses to the accumulation of U in the leaves. L. chinense has the strongest enrichment effect on heavy metals but exhibits weak biochemical responses under U stress. C. carlesii demonstrates strong adaptation to U and can maintain healthy pigment characteristics in case of high U enrichment. (4) S. discolor, L. chinense, C. carlesii and R. chinensis have strong tolerance to U toxicity and different biochemical responses.

  • Distribution, sources and health risk assessment of contaminations in water of urban park: A case study in Northeast China 2019-12-01


    This case study was performed to determine whether the pollutants in water of urban park could bring health risk to human engaging in water-related activities such as swimming and provide evidence demonstrating the critical need for strengthened recreational water resources management of urban park. TN, NH4+-N, TP, Cu, Mn, Zn, Se, Pb, As, Cd and Cr(VI) contents were determined to describe the spatial distribution of contaminations; sources apportionment with the method of correlation analysis, factor analysis and cluster analysis were followed by health risk assessment for swimmers of different age groups. The results reveal that element contents in all sites do not exceed Chinese standard for swimming area and European Commission standard for surface water; all detected elements except Cr(VI) have a tendency to accumulate in the location of lake crossing bridge; Mn and Zn are considered to have the same pollution source including geogenic and anthropogenic sources by multivariable analysis. Carcinogenic risks of different age groups descend in the same order with non-carcinogenic risks. Among all elements, Zn and Mn contribute the lowest non-carcinogenic risk (5.1940E-06) and the highest non-carcinogenic risk (7.9921E-04) through skin contact pathway, respectively. The total average personal risk for swimmers in swimming area is 1.9693E-03, and this site is not suitable for swimming. Overall, it is possible that swimmers are exposed to risk via the dermal route when carrying out water-related activities, it is recommended that necessary precautions and management should be taken in other similar locations around the world.