Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 273–282 | Cite as

Earthworms and in vitro physiologically-based extraction tests: complementary tools for a holistic approach towards understanding risk at arsenic-contaminated sites

  • Mark Button
  • Michael J. Watts
  • Mark R. Cave
  • Chris F. Harrington
  • Gawen T. Jenkin
Original Paper


The relationship of the total arsenic content of a soil and its bioaccumulation by earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus and Dendrodrilus rubidus) to the arsenic fraction bioaccessible to humans, measured using an in vitro physiologically-based extraction test (PBET), was investigated. Soil and earthworm samples were collected at 24 sites at the former arsenic mine at the Devon Great Consols (DGC) in southwest England (UK), along with an uncontaminated site in Nottingham, UK, for comparison. Analysis of soil and earthworm total arsenic via inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) was performed following a mixed acid digestion. Arsenic concentrations in the soil were elevated (204–9,025 mg kg−1) at DGC. The arsenic bioaccumulation factor (BAF) for both earthworm species was found to correlate positively with the human bioaccessible fraction (HBF), although the correlation was only significant (P ≤ 0.05) for L. rubellus. The potential use of both in vitro PBETs and earthworms as complementary tools is explored as a holistic and multidisciplinary approach towards understanding risk at contaminated sites. Arsenic resistant earthworm species such as the L. rubellus populations at DGC are presented as a valuable tool for understanding risk at highly contaminated sites.


Arsenic Bioaccessibility Bioaccumulation Exposure Risk 



The authors wish to thank the British Geological Survey University Funding Initiative (BUFI) for funding this research as part of a PhD studentship. We are also grateful to Joanna Wragg of the British Geological Survey for reviewing the manuscript and the late Tim Brewer for his guidance early on in the studentship. We would also like to thank the Tavistock estate for granting permission to access the Devon Great Consols site.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Button
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael J. Watts
    • 1
  • Mark R. Cave
    • 1
  • Chris F. Harrington
    • 3
  • Gawen T. Jenkin
    • 2
  1. 1.British Geological SurveyNottinghamUK
  2. 2.Department of GeologyUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  3. 3.School of Science and TechnologyNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

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