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A review of soil cadmium contamination in China including a health risk assessment

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Cadmium (Cd) is one of the most serious soil contaminants in China, and it poses an increasing risk to human health as large amounts of Cd are emitted into the environment. However, knowledge about soil Cd concentrations and the human health risks of these concentrations at a national scale is limited. In this study, we conducted a review of 190 articles about soil Cd concentrations during 2001 to 2010. The study involved 146 cities in China, and we quantified the risks to human health according to different regions. The results showed that elevated Cd levels were present compared to the background value of soil in 1990, and the soil Cd concentrations in the Guangxi province exceeded even the class III Soil Environmental Quality standard, which is the limit for the normal growth of plants. The Chinese soil Cd concentrations ranged from 0.003 mg kg−1 to 9.57 mg kg−1. The soil Cd concentrations had the following trend: northwest > southwest > south central > east > northeast > north. The sources of soil Cd are mainly from smelting, mining, waste disposal, fertilizer and pesticide application, and vehicle exhaust, etc. but differentiated in various regions. The soil Cd contamination in urban areas was more serious than contamination in the agricultural areas. Currently, there is no significant non-carcinogenic risk in any of the provinces. Regarding the different exposure pathways, the dermal pathway is the primary source of soil Cd exposure, and the risk associated with this pathway is generally hundreds of times higher than the risk for an ingestion pathway. For most of the provinces, the health risk to the urban population was higher than the risk to the rural population. For each population, the carcinogenic risk was less than 10−6 in most of the provinces, except for the urban population in the Hunan province. If the other exposure pathways are fully considered, then the people in these areas may have a higher carcinogenic risk. This review provides a comprehensive assessment of soil Cd pollution in China, and it identifies policy recommendations for pollution mitigation and environmental management in the relevant regions.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41171384) and Special Environmental Research Funds for Public Welfare (No. 201009046 and No. 201109064)

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Correspondence to Hongguang Cheng.

Additional information

Lin Wang and Xiangfen Cui contributed equally to this work.

Responsible editor: Zhihong Xu

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Wang, L., Cui, X., Cheng, H. et al. A review of soil cadmium contamination in China including a health risk assessment. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22, 16441–16452 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5273-1

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  • Cadmium contamination
  • Topsoil
  • Health risk assessment
  • China