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

  • 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.