Monthly Archives: July 2018

Soil metals linked with cancer mortality

A couple of interesting articles below regarding the link between soil metals and cancer.


A study links soil metals with cancer mortality – Medical Xpress
April 23, 2018, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT)

“Spanish epidemiologists and geologists have found associations between esophageal cancer and soils where lead is abundant. Lung cancer has been associated with high copper content in soil; brain tumors are linked with areas rich in arsenic, and bladder cancer is associated with high cadmium levels. These statistical links do not indicate that there is a cause-effect relationship between soil type and cancer, but they suggest that the influence of metals on the geographical distribution of tumors should be analyzed.

The risk of dying from cancer is not the same in all geographic regions. There are many factors that influence the development of cancer, including the type of soil, since it can harbor heavy metals and semimetals that are carcinogenic for humans. Chronic exposure to these toxic elements, which enter the body via the food chain, could increase the frequency of certain tumors in some territories.

In this context, researchers from the National Epidemiology Center of the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) and the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME) have jointly assessed the possible statistical association between the concentrations of heavy metals in the soil and mortality by different cancer types. The results have been published in the open access journals Environmental Geochemistry and Health and Environmental Science and Pollution Research International.

The data was extracted from Spain’s Geochemical Atlas, published by the IGME in 2012, as well as from a database with 861,440 deaths from 27 cancer types that occurred in almost 8,000 Spanish municipalities between 1999 and 2008. The data can be extrapolated to the present because the geochemical composition of the soil is stable and the mortality patterns for disease usually do not vary.

The authors have crossed the information of the type of soil and the geographic distribution of the tumors, applying statistical analyses and taking into account the presence of local polluting foci or socio-demographic variables that could interfere in the results. They have found increased mortality in both genders from esophageal cancer in areas with higher concentrations of lead, and lung cancer in areas with high copper levels, among other correlations.

“We have also detected that the highest levels of cadmium, lead, zinc, manganese and copper concentrations in the soil are statistically associated with a higher mortality due to cancers of the digestive system in men,” explains Pablo Fernández, ISCIII researcher and co-author of the paper, “and in the case of women, a higher mortality from brain cancer in those areas with more cadmium content.”

The results also show a relationship between soils with more cadmium and higher mortality from bladder cancer; as well as areas with high concentrations of arsenic and more cases of death from brain tumors. “This research suggests that the geochemical composition of the soil, especially its metals, could be influencing the spatial distribution and mortality patterns of cancer in Spain, regardless of the socio-demographic context,” says Fernández. “The great contribution of this work to environmental epidemiology and public health in general. However, although it is plausible that the contents of toxic elements in the soil, even if they are very small, may be a component in the cancer etiology, the results must be interpreted with great caution, since the relationships found do not allow us to conclude that there is a cause-effect relationship. Our study does not have individual exposure data or information about other very important factors in the origin of cancer, such as tobacco, alcohol consumption or obesity.”

Co-author Gonzalo López-Abente says, “The conclusions move in the field of hypotheses and statistical associations, which will have to be confirmed with future analyses to check whether the composition of the soil itself has its counterpart in the biological markers of humans. In any case, the results are plausible and we could be facing one more component of the cancer etiology.”


Only the introduction of the article has been posted, please follow the link for the full article

Investigating local relationships between trace elements in soils and cancer data – Science Direct
Authors – Jennifer M.McKinley, Ulrich Ofterdinger, Michael Young, Amy Barsby, Anna Gavind

“1. Introduction
1.1. How environmental factors affect health
Natural trace elements, mineral water and gases (such as radon) are present in the environment and these interact with the human body in both positive and negative ways. As recognised by Paracelsus (1493–1541 AC) “all substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison; the right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy”. Medical geology or spatial epidemiology is concerned with the study of spatial patterns of disease incidence and mortality and the identification of potential causes of disease including environmental exposure or socio-demographic factors (Goovaerts, 2010). To date, the culmination of a broad body of research has recognised a number of potentially toxic elements (PTEs), such as arsenic (As), cobalt (Co), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), selenium (Se), vanadium (V), uranium (U) and zinc (Zn), known to influence human disease by their respective deficiency or toxicity. As the impact of infectious diseases has decreased and the population as a whole ages, so cancer has become the most common cause of death in developed countries. The risk of developing cancer is recognised as a combination of the person’s genetic makeup and environmental factors usually over long periods of time. Steingraber (2010) describes a study of cancer among adoptees that found correlations with their adoptive families but not within their biological ones. The concept that our genes work in communion with substances from the larger ecological world suggests that what runs in families does not necessarily run in the blood (Steingraber, 2010). Carcinogens fall into three groups—chemical, physical and biological. Chemical carcinogens, the largest group, include tobacco products, asbestos, benzene and the products of tobacco. Biological agents include infections such as Human Papilloma Virus, (HPV) causally linked with cervical cancer, and Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) linked with lymphomas. The best known example of physical carcinogens is high-energy radiation, including nuclear radiation and X-rays. Radiation is known as a ‘complete’ carcinogen because it can initiate, promote and progress a cancer. Chemical carcinogens occur in nature, in mineral ores, such arsenic and others in foods (e.g. fungal contaminants). The history of cancer is long but our recognition of the agents that contribute to its occurrence has been slow to mature. A reflection that external or environmental agents could produce malignant change was noted by Pott, a London physician, in 1775, after observational studies prompted him to link scrotal cancer, common among chimney sweeps, to the soot that accumulated on their bodies (cited in Majno and Joris, 2004). Skin cancer was noted to be prevalent among workers exposed to arsenic fumes in copper smelters and tin foundries in Cornwall and Wales. Workers in cobalt mines in Saxony and the uranium mines in Bohemia were subject to a disease of the lungs later identified as cancer. Many of the causes of cancer including the effects of lifestyle and environmental factors are still not well understood. Investigating the geographical differences in cancer incidence may shed light on variations in cancer risk factors between populations (Carsin et al., 2009).”


Enjoy your day further!  Chris

Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Dust Monitoring Training Course July 2018

Please note that the training course for Pretoria is scheduled for 17, 18, 19 July 2018.

Kloof Bed and Breakfast
570 Rutgers Street, Moreleta Park, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
Cellphone: +27 (0)82 923 3730 | Facsimile: +27 (0)86 672 6310
E-mail: |

Contact Person for accommodation bookings: (Optional – Any accommodation can be used but this is the venue for the training and is recommended)
Erica Lottering
Mobile no: 082 923 3730

Please book accommodation if required independently at this venue or an alternative venue. The training will take place at this venue.

Please diarise those dates if you can make it, and RSVP by 1 July 2018 if possible.

If you would like to attend or to send a representative, then please email or call on 021 789 0847 / 082 875 0209 to reserve a place.

The costs for the training – R3028 per person per day, and the course runs for three days. You can also select which days to attend if you do not want to attend all three days.

Below is a brief outline of the course, although the course will be customised to meet the specific needs of those attending.

Please do not hesitate to contact me regarding any queries.

Chris Loans

DustWatch CC – Precipitant Dust Monitoring
082 875 0209 or 021 789 0847 (Chris)
083 308 4764 (Gerry)
0866 181 421 (Fax)

______________Course Information________________________________________________
The course has three main topics that will be covered over the three days.
1. Fallout dust monitoring theory (Day 1)
2. Fallout dust monitoring practical (Day 2)
3. Fallout Dust Monitoring Reporting (Day 3)
The fallout dust monitoring section of the course aims to train the trainees so that they are able to do the following.
1. Understand what fallout dust monitoring achieves and what is collected. This will include discussion around the legislative requirements and will also address the possible influences of dust sensitive areas like communities, hospitals, farms, and recreational areas.
2. Prepare buckets, transport buckets and change buckets in the Fallout Dust Monitoring units.
3. Filter the bucket contents using a filter bench and using the related equipment used in the filtering process. This includes advice on how to minimise the filtering time and what can be done when samples are taking very long to filter.
4. Understand how to calculate the fallout dust monitoring results in mg/m2/day and how to interpret these results.
5. Report writing and presentation options for the results will also be discussed.
6. Some computer training may also be included in the course if required.
7. Access to our software for processing of the fallout dust data will also be included after the course. This can be used to simplify the data collection and report writing and will also provide a database of the fallout dust levels over the years.
The course will be presented by Christopher Loans who is a Professional Chemical Engineer with a Masters in Occupational Hygiene focused on the Mining Industry.

Africa has an air pollution problem

Air pollution

Something interesting to read about ………..  Enjoy your day!


Africa has an air pollution problem but lacks the data to tackle it – University of Pretoria

By – Prof Janine Wichmann

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently launched BreatheLife, a campaign to make people more aware about the fact that air pollution – which it calls the invisible killer – is a major health and climate risk.

‘Invisible’ may refer to the lack of awareness that air pollution is a major health risk. In fact, air pollution levels exceeding the WHO air quality guidelines are often very visible, particularly in developing countries. This is especially true for billions of people living in close contact with air pollution sources. Those who, for example, cook on inefficient stoves with fuels such as coal. Or live in an industrial area.

The WHO has air quality programmes for most of the world’s regions. These review the effects of air pollution on health and help countries develop sustainable air quality policies. But none exists for sub-Saharan Africa. It is not clear why. A possible explanation may be that environmental health risk factors are overshadowed by other risks like malnutrition, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Despite this, we do know something about the continent’s air pollution levels. In the first major attempt to estimate the health and economic costs of air pollution in Africa, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report found that air pollution in Africa already causes more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition. It warned that this could develop into a health and climate crisis.

But how bad are air pollution levels in Africa? Which countries have the worst air pollution levels? What are the main sources and drivers of air pollution? Are the main sources and drivers of air pollution different from those on other continents?

The answers to these questions are severely hampered by a lack of data as well as poor regulation and laws in African countries. The only country on the continent that has ambient air quality standards enforced by air quality laws and regulations is South Africa. Other countries have either ambient air quality standards or air quality laws and regulations, or none at all.

What’s known

Air pollution is a complex mixture of many components.

The WHO’s air quality guidelines, as well as country-specific laws, have identified a few air pollutant components: particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometer (PM2.5) and 10 micrometer (PM10) in aerodynamic diameter, sulphur dioxide (SO2), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene, lead and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The most dangerous are PM2.5 and ultrafine particles (UFP); the latter are smaller than 100 nanometer in aerodynamic diameter. PM2.5 and UFP penetrate deeper into the lung alveoli and may pass into the bloodstream. PM10 and PM2.5 are important indicators of long-term air quality and of health risks.

Based on data of ground measurements conducted in 2008-2015, Africa’s PM10 levels are not the highest in the world.

The database is the largest of its kind and covers over 3 000 human settlements – mostly cities – in 103 countries. The number one spot belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean region, followed by the South-East Asia region and then Africa. But the WHO acknowledges numerous limitations to the data sources. Fewer sites globally measure PM2.5, hence the focus is on PM10.

The PM2.5 data based on the WHO air quality model show that the number one spot again belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean region, followed by the South-East Asia region and then Africa. Given the lack of PM2.5 ground measurements in Africa, the PM2.5 data derived from the WHO air quality model for Africa should be viewed with caution.

Where is the air worse in Africa?

It is hard to say what the real picture is. The modelled PM2.5 data supplements the data from ground monitoring networks, especially in regions with no or very little monitoring, as is the case in Africa.

The PM10 data, based on ground measurements conducted between 2008 and 2015, show that all African countries with PM10 data exceeded the WHO annual guideline of 20 microgram/cubic meter (µg/m³).

Onitsha in Nigeria had the highest yearly PM10 level of 594 µg/m³ globally, nearly 30 times higher than the WHO annual guideline. But the quality of the data is questionable. The level for Onitsha is based on PM10 data collected only in 2009 and only at one site. The database also does not mention on how many days the 2009 yearly level is based as missing data can lead to a distorted yearly level. The lowest yearly PM10 level was recorded at Midlands in Mauritius (20 µg/m³). But this is based only on 2011 data collected again at only one site without mention of how many days in 2011 were measured.

It is also difficult to know exactly what the contribution of different sources of air pollution are in Africa.

The amount of air pollution in any given location is affected by a combination of local, regional and distant sources. It is also affected by the dispersion of pollutants, which in turn depends on numerous weather conditions such as wind direction, temperature and precipitation.

A recent review indicated that very few studies in Africa conducted source apportionment of PM2.5 and PM10. The review concluded that (based on the few studies) 17%, 10%, 34%, 17% and 22% of PM2.5 levels in Africa are due to traffic, industry, domestic fuel burning, unspecified source of human origin and natural sources – such as dust and sea salt. For PM10 the corresponding source distribution is 34%, 6%, 21%, 14% and 25%, but should be viewed with caution due to the few studies.

Based on the limited number of PM10 and PM2.5 source apportionment studies in Africa, these tentative conclusions can be drawn. Traffic is a major source of PM10 levels in Africa as in many other global regions. The other two major sources of PM10 in Africa are domestic fuel burning and natural sources. In other regions of the world, industry and the ambiguous ‘unspecified source of human origin’ contribute more.

Domestic fuel burning is the major source of PM2.5 in Africa, followed by traffic and natural sources such as dust. In other regions of the world, traffic, industry and the ambiguous ‘unspecified source of human origin’ contribute more to PM2.5 levels.

Air quality interventions

Regardless of the exact global source contributions, the main sources of air pollution should be tackled globally in management plans and interventions.

Obvious interventions include clean energy technology such as solar power, to minimise domestic fuel burning and emissions from coal-fired power plants. Other initiatives include clean public transport, bicycle lanes to cut traffic emissions, recycling and controls on industrial emissions.

Air pollution does not stop at country or continental borders. It is a major risk factor for climate change. A disregard for air pollution levels in Africa may have a major impact on global climate change in the years to come.”

“Prof Janine Wichmann is an Associate Professor at the School of Health Systems and Public Health at the University of Pretoria.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.”


Measuring Africa’s Air Pollution – The New York Times
By Kate Galbraith 2014

“When Jenny Linden, an air quality scientist, tried to measure the pollution in Burkina Faso’s capital city, one of her instruments clogged up. It was designed for road dust in Arizona, but the dust in Ouagadougou far exceeded the machine’s limit, and it had to be sent to the United States for repair.

The instrument “could not take the level of pollutants they had there,” recalled Dr. Linden, who took measurements in Ouagadougou between 2003 and 2007 and is now a research associate in urban climatology at the University of Mainz, in Germany. So intense was the dust, she added, that “you don’t have a cold but you have an irritated nose the whole time.”

Air pollution in Asia and Europe has grabbed headlines. But as Dr. Linden’s experience suggests, the problem is pervasive across Africa as well. Africa is urbanizing quickly, and pollution from sources like vehicle exhaust, wood burning and dusty dirt roads has reached worrisome levels in many cities. Equally or more troubling is air pollution inside homes, caused by cooking with wood or other sooty fuels. But few nations outside South Africa have imposed regulations to address the problem, experts say.

“We do know that in Africa, there’s a very major problem with indoor air pollution,” said Dr. Carlos Dora, an official with the World Health Organization’s Department for Public Health and Environment. Data for outdoor air pollution in cities, he added, is less available and may not capture the scope of the problem.

Dirty air can cause lung damage as well as heart disease, strokes and cancer. Last month the W.H.O. estimated that one in eight deaths worldwide resulted from air pollution. The organization found that air pollution in African homes contributed to nearly 600,000 deaths in 2012. Africa had the third highest level of deaths per capita from indoor air pollution of any region of the world, though it was still well behind areas of the western Pacific region (including China) and Southeast Asia.

The W.H.O. figures for deaths per capita from outdoor air pollution in Africa are well below the world average, but the lack of data is a barrier. Pollution monitoring is minimal on a continent that is mostly focused on other problems. Instruments are expensive, and academics say they often struggle to get grants to study the problem. The W.H.O. assesses outdoor pollution in Africa by drawing from satellite data, inventories of pollution sources, air-current modeling and occasional ground monitors, Dr. Dora said. Continentwide data is stronger than that for individual countries, he added.

In Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, normal levels of fine dust (meaning particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, about 1/30 of the width of a human hair and a significant health threat) are usually five times as high as those in Gothenburg, Sweden, according to Johan Boman, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Gothenburg. The Nairobi pollution doubles near the central business district, he said, reflecting high pollution from vehicle exhaust.

“It’s certainly not as bad as what we see from China,” he said. “On the other hand, in China it’s very much seasonal,” whereas Nairobi, with its relatively stable climate, has less variation.

A survey several years ago by the W.H.O. showed Gaborone, Botswana, as having the eighth-highest level of particulate pollution (particles of up to 10 micrometers in diameter) among a list of world cities. But the W.H.O. stresses that it is an incomplete list, since many cities did not provide data — including some of the most polluted.

The outdoor pollution problem is growing, as more Africans move to cities. Ms. Linden, who did research in Burkina Faso until 2007, said that “the situation is likely worse now” because Ouagadougou’s population has swelled by more than 50 percent since then. Major outdoor sources of pollution include old vehicles; the burning of wood and trash; industrial activities; and even dust from dirt roads, a serious issue in Ouagadougou. In West Africa, a wind called the harmattan adds to the problem in the winter, coating the region in Saharan desert dust.

One recent study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, estimated that Africa could generate 20 percent to 30 percent of the world’s combustion-driven sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by 2030, up from about 5 percent each in 2005. Other pollutants are growing too: Organic carbon from Africa could rise to over 50 percent of the world’s combustion output, from 20 percent, the study said. The authors did their calculations using estimates about fuel consumption, growth and other emissions factors, and warned of “a considerable increase in emissions from Africa” in the absence of regulations.

One of few countries to put regulations in place is South Africa, where ozone and tiny particles are particular worries. Air quality standards went into effect in 2009. Restrictions on particles will tighten in 2015 and 2016, according to Rebecca Garland, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria.

Elsewhere, action is lacking as African nations grapple with other problems. Dr. Dora of the W.H.O. said that in countries like China, the pressure to stem pollution comes from businesses, and “from what I know, there’s still not that pressure from businesses in Africa,” he said. However, some leaders are aware of the issue and want to address it, he added.

One initiative that has gotten considerable attention is cleaner cookstoves. The current fuels, including wood, charcoal, animal dung and crop residues, create smoke and soot. The W.H.O. is releasing information soon about how various technologies can improve indoor air pollution. The concept of cleaner cookstoves has been getting high-profile attention; however, some experts caution that some of the new cookstoves may be focused less on reducing air emissions than on other benefits like increased energy efficiency and preventing forest degradation.

“I don’t think anybody’s really demonstrated that they’re clean enough” to play a serious role in improving public health, said Darby Jack, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.”