SEGH Articles

SEGH2019 Prize Winners Series: Tatiana Cocerva

31 July 2019
Tatiana Cocerva, a PhD researcher at Queens University Belfast, won the best overall ECR presentation prize and shares her experience of SEGH2019 with us!

A few years ago, I heard about the SEGH and the conferences organised each year in different countries. I was following the programs and research topics covered at each event and I looked forward to finding the opportunity of attending at least one of the conferences organised by the SEGH.

This year, the SEGH took place in the United Kingdom at the famous Manchester University and it consisted of a comprehensive program with interesting topics and a diverse audience working in the field of environmental geochemistry and health. I was really excited when I received the news that my abstract has been accepted for an oral presentation. Being a final year PhD student, I decided to present the main results of my research work and to highlight the importance of using bioaccessibility testing in the Human Health Risk Assessment in urban environments.

Figure 1. Tatiana Cocerva presenting at the SEGH conference

Urban population is growing fast, and it implies the necessity of developing new areas to support the city needs. Sometimes, it involves the redevelopment of brownfield sites, and it is highly important that the future land use to not represent a risk to people. This study investigates how bioaccessibility of Potentially Toxic Elements (PTEs) varies spatially across the urban area of Belfast and identifies the contribution of geogenic and anthropogenic sources of contamination.

Figure 2. Tatiana Cocerva analysing the BAF of PTEs in Belfast topsoil samples

Concentrations in soils in some areas of the city exceed published generic assessment criteria and therefore may potentially pose a risk to human health. However, most generic assessment criteria for soils assume that 100% of the contaminants present in the soils are bioavailable to humans, which is often not the case. Oral bioaccessibility testing can be used to measure the soil contaminant fraction that will become dissolved in the digestive tract and therefore will be available for absorption by the body. In total, 103 surface soil samples overlying different bedrock types and land uses were collected from across Belfast and oral bioaccessibility testing was undertaken using the Unified BARGE Method (UBM). Results showed low bioaccessible fraction (BAF) for Cr (0.5 to 5.7%), V (3.3 to 23.4%), and Ni (1 to 45.7%) which are associated with soil parent materials in the underlying Antrim Basalt. In contrast, higher BAF values were registered for Cu (0.4 to 68.1%), Zn (5 to 78.2%), As (6.8 to 82.9%) and Pb (8.8 to 100%) that were associated with anthropogenic sources within Belfast. 

My presentation was well-received by the audience and I got constructive feedback and comments which inspired me to look at the research results from different angles of interest.

Over the course of three days, I attended interesting presentations on topics covering the current environmental challenges and I exchanged ideas with other delegates working on similar research areas as mine.


Figure 3. Dr. Siobhan Cox (Queen's University Belfast (QUB), UK), Tatiana Cocerva (QUB, UK), Dr. Paula Marinho-Reis (Universidade do Minho, Portugal)

Social activities

The conference organisers were fully involved in making social activities enjoyable and memorable for everyone. On the first day, we visited the famous Manchester City stadium where we had the great experience to walk in the footsteps of football players in a fascinating behind the scenes tour.

Figure 4. SEGH delegates at the Manchester City Stadium

In the second day, I joined the Early Career Research (ECR) meeting where we were informed about the role and importance of the ECR group. I found this initiative useful and I provided my contribution in developing and maintaining close collaborations among ECR.

Figure 5. ECR lunch meeting

In the evening, all conference delegates were invited to a formal dinner in the beautiful Midland Hotel where the legend says that Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce met and established their successful business. Yes, we were really inspired by this story and maybe in a few years, we will be the personalities to sign the most important contracts and collaborations to make our planet a better place to live!

Figure 6. Formal dinner at the luxurious Midland Hotel

The last day of the conference was complemented by an interactive workshop on sustainable nutrition held by the social enterprise MetMUnch where the conference attendees were taught to make Kimchi – a traditional Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables. As a curious researcher, I tried for the first time some healthy snacks rich in proteins, such locusts and buffalo worms and I would confess that I was surprised by the good taste despite their aspect.


Closing ceremony

For three days I got so much inspired and learned new information from other delegates and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to attend this event. 

The enthusiasm got even higher when I heard that my presentation was selected for the award “Best Student Oral Presentation” and received a voucher of USD250 to buy any book from Springer. I was honoured for receiving this award and I would like to express my deepest gratitude towards all my supervisors and co-authors for their unconditional support and help provided in my research work.

As well, I would like to thank the scientific committee for their hard work invested in evaluating all the presentations and posters and selecting the best quality of work.


Figure 8. Tatiana Cocerva receiving the Best Student Oral Presentation Award from Dr. Andrew Hursthouse

Time to celebrate! As I mentioned in the beginning, the conference organisers made sure that all delegates are rewarded with quality time at the end of each conference day, so this time we were invited to take part in a small pub crawl around some of the local unique bars and pubs in Manchester. The SEGH delegates enjoyed some fine English ales in a nice atmosphere and relaxing environment.

Figure 9. SEGH delegates exchanging ideas and impressions after the conference

The SEGH 2019 conference was a real success and I would like to thank all the organisers for their hard work, amazing ideas and dedication invested in this event.

I look forward to attending the next SEGH conference and to working closely with the ECR group.


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Science in the News

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

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    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.