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

  • Health risks and source identification of dietary exposure to indicator polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Lanzhou, China 2019-09-19


    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are widely present in multiple environmental media even long after the phaseout, posing a health risk to the general population. Dietary intake is the major exposure route of PCBs; however, information is limited regarding PCBs in food that people directly consume. This study aims to measure personal exposure to indicator PCBs, evaluate the health risks, and identify their sources in a typical metropolitan city in China. Multi-day food samples were collected from 21 subjects in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, in two seasons using the duplicate plate method. Samples were extracted and analyzed for seven indicator PCBs using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Average daily doses (ADDs) of ∑7PCBs were estimated using Monte Carlo analysis with food intake information. Results show that PCB-118 and PCB-180 were the major congeners in food samples with average concentrations of 1.42 and 1.11 ng/g, respectively. The average (± SD) ADD of ∑7PCBs was 26.47 ± 22.10 ng/kg day among adults aged 18–69 years and displayed small variation across age groups. Comparing with the chronic RfD of 7 ng/kg day, 67% of people had their ADDs exceeding this threshold. The median cancer risk was 5.52 × 10−5, and 51% of residents had risks exceeding the action level of 10−4. The principal component analysis identified waste incineration, gasoline engine production, and leakage of #1 PCBs as the major PCBs sources. In conclusion, a large portion of Lanzhou residents has high non-cancer and cancer risks from dietary exposure to PCBs, which warrants control actions targeting these major sources.

  • Comprehensive assessment of heavy metals pollution of farmland soil and crops in Jilin Province 2019-09-18


    As a major agricultural province in China, it is necessary to study the content of heavy metals in farmland soil and crop in Jilin Province and to evaluate the risks to ecology and human health. This study presented the work completed on 79 soil samples, 10 rice samples, 66 maize samples and 15 soybean samples collected from Jilin Province farmland and evaluated six heavy metals (Zn, Cu, Pb, Cd, Hg and As) concentrations. The results showed that the concentrations of the six heavy metals in farmland soil and crop samples from Jilin Province basically met the soil standards and food health standards of China. The agricultural soil pollution spatial distribution was the most serious in the south of Jilin Province and the lightest in the west. The non-carcinogenic risks faced by children eating crops were higher than those of adults, but the carcinogenic risks were lower than those of adults. Both of the two health risks to adults and children from eating crops were very limited. The results would help determine the heavy metals pollution in farmland soil in Jilin Province efficiently and accurately and helped decision makers to achieve a balance between production and environmental regulation.

  • Sustainability of agricultural and wild cereals to aerotechnogenic exposure 2019-09-14


    In recent decades, the problem of the constantly increasin level of anthropogenic load on the environment is becoming more and more acute. Some of the most dangerous pollutants entering the environment from industrial emissions are heavy metals. These pollutants are not susceptible to biodegradation over time, which leads to their accumulation in the environment in dangerous concentrations. The purpose of this work is to study the sustainability of cultivated and wild plants of the Poaceae family to aerotechnogenic pollution in the soil. The content of heavy metals in couch grass (Elytrigia repens (L.) Nevski), meadow bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) and soft wheat (Triticum aestivum) plants grown in the impact zone of Novocherkassk Power Station has been analyzed. Contamination of cultivated and wild cereals with Pb, Zn, Ni and Cd has been established. It has been shown that the accumulation of heavy metals is individual for each plant species. An average and close correlation have been established between the total HM content and the content of their mobile forms in the soil and their content in plants. For the plants studied, the translocation factor (TF) and the distribution coefficient (DC) of HM have been calculated. The TF is formed by the ratio of the concentration of an element in the root plant dry weight to the content of its mobile compounds in the soil. The DC value makes it possible to estimate the capacity of the aboveground parts of plants to absorb and accumulate elements under soil pollution conditions and is determined as the ratio of the metal content in the aboveground biomass to its concentration in the roots. TF and DC values have shown a significant accumulation of elements by plants from the soil, as well as their translocation from the root system to the aboveground part. It has been revealed that even within the same Poaceae family, cultural species are more sensitive to man-made pollution than wild-growing ones.