Environmental concerns related to high thallium levels in soils and thallium uptake by plants in southwest Guizhou, China.Sci Total Environ. 2004 Jan 05; 318(1-3):223-44.ST
Thallium (Tl) contamination in soils poses a significant threat to human health due to the high toxicity of Tl and its ready assimilation by crops. This study is focused on high concentrations of Tl in soils in the Lanmuchang area of southwest Guizhou, China, which is related to natural processes of Tl-rich sulfide mineralization. Thallium contents range from 40 to 124 mg/kg in soils originating from the mining area, from 20 to 28 mg/kg in slope wash materials, from 14 to 62 mg/kg in alluvial deposits downstream, from 1.5 to 6.9 mg/kg in undisturbed natural soils and <0.2 to 0.5 mg/kg Tl in soils from the background area. These values indicate that both the erosion of natural soils from the Tl mineralized area and the mining activity are responsible for the distribution of high Tl concentrations in soils. Two other important toxic metals of interest, mercury and arsenic, also show high contents in soils, and are generally higher than Tl concentrations. Thallium concentration in plants exhibit species-dependent preferences. Thus, the enrichment of Tl in the edible parts of crop species decreases in the following order: green cabbage>carrot>chili>Chinese cabbage>rice>corn. The highest level of Tl in green cabbage is up to 500 mg/kg as dry wt., surpassing the values of Tl in the soils in which the green cabbages grow. In contrast, Hg and As are relatively less concentrated in local plants. The average daily uptake of Tl by the villagers of the Lanmuchang area through consumption of locally planted crops has been estimated to be 1.9 mg/person, which is 50 times the daily ingestion of individuals from the Tl-free background area. The daily ingestion of As and Hg from the study area are 0.03 and 0.01 mg, respectively. This indicates that Tl in the contaminated soils related to the natural Tl mineralization is being readily transferred to the human body through the food chain, and poses a significant threat to the health of the local villagers. Arsenic may pose a lesser health hazard, but mercury has an insignificant health risk. This study illustrates a real environmental concern related to land use and human health in areas containing high contents of Tl in soils associated with the natural occurrence of Tl-rich sulfides and coals, with or without mining activities. Thallium contamination in soils should be a critical parameter for proper land use and health related environmental planning and regulations.