SEGH Articles

World Iodine Association first international conference, Pisa 2017

04 January 2018
In November 2017 a group of students from BGS and the University of Nottingham researching iodine geochemistry and its affect on human health attended the first international conference of the World Iodine Association - Iodine in Food Systems and Health - in Pisa, Italy. Olivier Humphrey, undertaking his PhD with the Center for Environmental Geochemistry, reports on his time at the event.


Posing in front of the leaning tower of Pisa- I couldn’t resist!

Delegates from BGS and the University of Nottingham at the World Iodine Association conference

Iodine is an essential micronutrient involved in the production of the thyroid hormones, essential for all mammalian life. Approximately one-third of the world’s population are at risk of iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs). The most common outcome of iodine deficiency is goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland, however, the most severe effects occur during fetal development; leading to stillbirth, cretinism and mental impairment. The most widely-used method for reducing IDD is implementing iodised salt programmes; however, poor treatment, food processing, losses through volatisation and implementation reduces its effectiveness.

The conference welcome reception was held at the Domus Comeliana, a charming house situated next to the world famous leaning tower. It was here we were given introductory presentations regarding the history of iodine and human health by Dr Elizabeth Pearce. The great work conducted by various organisations towards eliminating global IDD was highlighted by Prof Michael B Zimmermann. After these opening talks, we had our iodine enriched gala dinner consisting of fish, cheeses and, of course, pasta.

The remainder of the conference was held at the Palazzo dei Congressi where talks were divided into multiple sessions addressing various iodine research related themes. The presentations given covered a wide range of topics including technical hurdles, salt iodisation, international stakeholder organisations’ opinions, before looking at iodine in soil, water and atmosphere. The next step, after looking at iodine in the environment, is to assess iodine in food and health. Dr Sarah Bath, a lecturer in public health nutrition at the University of Surrey, discussed nutritional recommendations for iodine and whether they can be met via dietary sources. Alongside these presentations, there were talks monitoring the iodine status of populations, industrial applications and iodine deficiency and excess in humans and animals.

Posing in front of the leaning tower of Pisa- I couldn’t resist!

The final session focused on agronomic biofortification of agricultural produce with iodine and I presented my current work investigating iodine uptake, translocation and storage mechanisms in spinach. Not only was this the World Iodine Association’s first international conference, it was the first conference I had given a presentation at! Despite the wide use of iodised salt, approximately 2 billion people are at risk of IDD, therefore we need to improve and add to current preventative treatments. The fortification of food with iodine is another strategy that can be used to reduce the risk of IDD, however, there is a lack of understanding of how iodine behaves in plants. In general, iodine has positive effects on plants when applied at a low concentration in soils, nutrient solution or foliar sprays. Despite the apparent positive effects on plant growth, the uptake pathways of iodine remain unknown and translocation pathways once absorbed by plants are still disputed. In my research, I have conducted a number of experiments to grasp a fundamental understanding of iodine-plant dynamics and have used isotopically labelled iodine tracers to trace the movement through spinach roots to show that uptake follows both active and passive pathways. This work, and recently published papers, indicates that agronomic biofortification could have a much larger role in tackling IDDs.

Whilst in Pisa, we also visited some key tourist spots, including: the square of miracles where we saw the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta - Duomo, the Baptistery, the Camposanto and the Tower, ate pizza and gelato (when in Rome…). We also managed to spend an afternoon in Lucca, a small city famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls that surround the city. We wandered around and through the city before climbing the Guinigi Tower.


   Posing in front of the leaning tower of Pisa
   -I couldn’t resist!


My overall impression was that the conference was a great success, the quality of all talks were fantastic and the inclusion of researchers from various backgrounds all investigating iodine was brilliant.

The PhD is supervised under the umbrella of the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry: Dr Scott Young, Dr Liz Bailey and Professor Neil Crout (University of Nottingham) and Dr Louise Ander and Dr Michael Watts (BGS)

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

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

  • Review: mine tailings in an African tropical environment—mechanisms for the bioavailability of heavy metals in soils 2019-05-27


    Heavy metals are of environmental significance due to their effect on human health and the ecosystem. One of the major exposure pathways of Heavy metals for humans is through food crops. It is postulated in the literature that when crops are grown in soils which have excessive concentrations of heavy metals, they may absorb elevated levels of these elements thereby endangering consumers. However, due to land scarcity, especially in urban areas of Africa, potentially contaminated land around industrial dumps such as tailings is cultivated with food crops. The lack of regulation for land-usage on or near to mine tailings has not helped this situation. Moreover, most countries in tropical Africa have not defined guideline values for heavy metals in soils for various land uses, and even where such limits exist, they are based on total soil concentrations. However, the risk of uptake of heavy metals by crops or any soil organisms is determined by the bioavailable portion and not the total soil concentration. Therefore, defining bioavailable levels of heavy metals becomes very important in HM risk assessment, but methods used must be specific for particular soil types depending on the dominant sorption phases. Geochemical speciation modelling has proved to be a valuable tool in risk assessment of heavy metal-contaminated soils. Among the notable ones is WHAM (Windermere Humic Aqueous Model). But just like most other geochemical models, it was developed and adapted on temperate soils, and because major controlling variables in soils such as SOM, temperature, redox potential and mineralogy differ between temperate and tropical soils, its predictions on tropical soils may be poor. Validation and adaptation of such models for tropical soils are thus imperative before such they can be used. The latest versions (VI and VII) of WHAM are among the few that consider binding to all major binding phases. WHAM VI and VII are assemblages of three sub-models which describe binding to organic matter, (hydr)oxides of Fe, Al and Mn and clays. They predict free ion concentration, total dissolved ion concentration and organic and inorganic metal ion complexes, in soils, which are all important components for bioavailability and leaching to groundwater ways. Both WHAM VI and VII have been applied in a good number of soils studies with reported promising results. However, all these studies have been on temperate soils and have not been tried on any typical tropical soils. Nonetheless, since WHAM VII considers binding to all major binding phases, including those which are dominant in tropical soils, it would be a valuable tool in risk assessment of heavy metals in tropical soils. A discussion of the contamination of soils with heavy metals, their subsequent bioavailability to crops that are grown in these soils and the methods used to determine various bioavailable phases of heavy metals are presented in this review, with an emphasis on prospective modelling techniques for tropical soils.

  • Pesticides in the typical agricultural groundwater in Songnen plain, northeast China: occurrence, spatial distribution and health risks 2019-05-25


    Songnen plain is an important commodity grain base of China, and this is the first study on the comprehensive detection of multiple pesticides in groundwater. Based on an analytical method of 56 pesticides, 30 groundwater samples were collected and analyzed. At least 4 pesticides were detected in each sample and 32 out of 56 pesticides were detected. The average detected levels of individual pesticides were approximately 10–100 ng/L. Organophosphorus pesticides and carbamate pesticides were the dominant pesticides, and their percentage of total pesticide concentrations were 35.9% and 55.5%, respectively. Based on the spatial distribution, the characteristic of nonpoint source pollution was indicated in the whole study area except for a point source pollution with the influence of a sewage oxidation pond. Nine core pesticides and three distinct clusters of the core pesticides with various concentration patterns were revealed by cluster analysis. Linear regression identified a significant relationship between the cumulative detections and the cumulative concentrations, providing access to identify the outlying contaminant events that deviate substantially from the linear trend. A new insight for prediction of pesticide occurrence was provided by the Pearson correlation between some individual pesticide concentrations and the cumulative detections or the cumulative concentrations. According to health risk assessment, the residual pesticides posed medium risks for children and infants and approximately 90% of risks were composed of β-HCH, dimethoate, ethyl-p-nitrophenyl phenylphosphonothioate and methyl parathion. These findings contributed to establishing a database for future monitoring and control of pesticides in agricultural areas.

  • Correction to: Potential CO 2 intrusion in near-surface environments: a review of current research approaches to geochemical processes 2019-05-22

    In the original publication of the article, the third author name has been misspelt. The correct name is given in this correction. The original version of this article was revised.