Human health risks and soil pollution

Rodrigues, Sónia M.; Römkens, Paul F.A.M.


Soils not only can act as a (temporary) sink for many types of pollutants emitted as a result of human activities (e.g., following atmospheric deposition or accidental spills) but can also act as a source of pollutants that will affect other environmental compartments (transfer to air, water, or biota). Accumulation of toxic chemical pollutants and soil-borne pathogens in soils resulted in increased human exposure either via inhalation, dermal contact or ingestion of soil, or indirect exposure via dietary intake or drinking water. It is therefore crucial to develop tools to assess potential risks of human exposure to pollutants and to determine meaningful threshold concentrations in soils in order to protect human health. This chapter presents a discussion on factors determining potential hazardous effects for human health at polluted areas, particularly factors determining the fate of pollutants in the soil matrix and their potential availability for uptake and intake by humans. It also discusses available tools to assess and characterize human health risks including existing regulatory frameworks, derivation of soil screening values for use in first tier risk assessments as well as available modeling tools to predict both fate of pollutants in soils and their potential for human exposure which is needed in case of site-specific risk assessment. Finally, conclusion will be drawn regarding the need to include bioavailability measurements in site-specific risk evaluations as a key solution toward more accurate and cost-effective assessments compared to current evaluation protocols.