Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 363–375 | Cite as

Geophagic clay materials from Nigeria: a potential source of heavy metals and human health implications in mostly women and children who practice it

  • U. A. Lar
  • J. I. Agene
  • A. I. Umar
Original paper


Geophagy is a common practice among certain cultural groups especially women in some rural communities in Nigeria. The safety of eating such clays in terms of their heavy metal composition has not been ascertained, neither is the link between them and disease conditions established in geophagists. The analysis of field survey data reveals that the majority (about 90 %) of the women did not go beyond secondary school education. The geology of an area has a direct influence on the chemical composition of the soils. Therefore, this research was carried out to determine the mineralogical and the heavy metal content of some geophagic clay materials from Nigeria. All the geophagic clay materials are hydrated silicates of either Al, (Na and Ca), (Al and Mg), or/and (Mg and Fe). The concentration levels of Na, Al, Ca, Fe, Mg, Cu, and Zn are tolerable and apparently could serve as a veritable source of mineral nutrients deficient in the human body. An assessment of the level of contamination of heavy metals on the basis of the index of geo-accumulation (I geo) shows that Cr, Cu, Zn, Co, and Ni (all with I geo < 1) did not contaminate the clay materials. On the contrary, they are extremely contaminated by As, Cd and Se (I geo = >5), and are moderately to strongly contaminated by Pb and Sb (I geo = 2–3). In terms of health risk assessment, the presence of heavy metals such as As, Cd, Pb, Se, and Sb with a health risk index (HRI) >1, renders the geophagic clays unsafe for human consumption. Similarly, Al, Fe, and Na are in excess in the clay (HRI ⋙ 1) posing serious human health risks. Thus, the ingestion of geophagic clay materials by pregnant women and children when it contains heavy metals like Pb, As, Cd, Se, and Sb poses the risk of some medical disorders and should therefore be considered a public health problem. Since geophagic practice will persist despite civilization, we advocate finding ways of reducing heavy metal pollutants in geophagic clays through suitable remediation technology.


Geophagy Heavy metals Contamination Women Children Health risk 



This study is part of on-going research on geophagia in Nigeria supported by self-funding. The authors seek funding to continue this noble project. We thank Prof. T.C. Davies for debuting this research in Nigeria and for his encouragement. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for making this paper worthwhile. The University of Jos, Nigeria, our host, is also appreciated for making the work possible.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geology and MiningUniversity of JosJosNigeria
  2. 2.Centre for Remote SensingJosNigeria
  3. 3.Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel DevelopmentJalingoNigeria

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