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Source apportionment and health risk assessment of potentially toxic elements in soil from mining areas in northwestern China


Soil contaminated with toxic elements from mining activities is a public health concern. In order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the status and potential risks of inorganic toxic elements in soil resulting from mining activities, Cu, Pb, Cr, Zn, Ni, As, and Cd were selected to evaluate a total of 42 soil samples collected from Gannan mining areas in northwestern China. The concentrations of As and Cd were much higher than their respective background values, while the concentrations of the other elements fluctuated around their background values. Results of combined multivariate statistical analyses and the distribution patterns of the individual pollutants imply that the toxic elements were originated from different sources even for one element in different sampling locations. The pollution index values indicated that As and Cd have a moderate to high pollution levels. The geo-accumulation indexes (Igeo) indicated that Cu, Pb, Cr, Zn, and Ni are likely of geologic origin, while As and Cd have been significantly affected by anthropogenic activities. Potential ecological risk indexes further showed that soils from mining areas within the study area pose a high potential ecological risk, and As and Cd were major risk contributors. Based on the calculated Hazard Index, the ingestion of soil particles appeared to be the main exposure route resulting in a higher risk, followed by dermal contact. The potential health risks of children and adults for As were greater than the safe level. The carcinogenic risk associated with As for local residents was also higher than the accepted levels, indicating a serious health risk to local residents. These results suggest that proper management strategies and various remediation practices should be implemented in the Gannan mining area in northwestern China.

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This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 21966020 and No. 42072180) and the Natural Science Foundation of Gansu Province (No. 20JR5RA392).

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Correspondence to Yufeng Jiang.

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The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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Jiang, Y., Wen, H., Zhang, Q. et al. Source apportionment and health risk assessment of potentially toxic elements in soil from mining areas in northwestern China. Environ Geochem Health 44, 1551–1566 (2022).

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  • Toxic elements
  • Soil contamination
  • Pollution assessment
  • Health risk assessment
  • Carcinogenic risk