Occurrence, behaviour, and human exposure pathways and health risks of toxic geogenic contaminants in serpentinitic ultramafic geological environments (SUGEs): A medical geology perspective.Sci Total Environ 2020; 700:134622ST
Serpentinitic ultramafic geological environments (SUGEs) contain toxic geogenic contaminants (TGCs). Yet comprehensive reviews on the medical geology of SUGEs are still lacking. The current paper posits that TGCs occur widely in SUGEs, and pose human health risks. The objectives of the review are to: (1) highlight the nature, occurrence and behaviour of TGCs associated with SUGEs; (2) discuss the human intake pathways and health risks of TGCs; (4) identify the key risk factors predisposing human health to TGCs particularly in Africa; and (5) highlight key knowledge gaps and future research directions. TGCs of human health concern in SUGEs include chrysotile asbestos, toxic metals (Fe, Cr, Ni, Mn, Zn, Co), and rare earth elements. Human intake of TGCs occur via inhalation, and ingestion of contaminated drinking water, wild foods, medicinal plants, animal foods, and geophagic earths. Occupational exposure may occur in the mining, milling, sculpturing, engraving, and carving industries. African populations are particularly at high risk due to: (1) widespread consumption of wild foods, medicinal plants, untreated drinking water, and geophagic earths; (2) weak and poorly enforced environmental, occupational, and public health regulations; and (3) lack of human health surveillance systems. Human health risks of chrysotile include asbestosis, cancers, and mesothelioma. Toxic metals are redox active, thus generate reactive oxygen species causing oxidative stress. Dietary intake of iron and geophagy may increase the iron overload among native Africans who are genetically predisposed to such health risks. Synergistic interactions among TGCs particularly chrysotile and toxic metals may have adverse human health effects. The occurrence of SUGEs, coupled with the several risk factors in Africa, provides a unique and ideal setting for investigating the relationships between TGCs and human health risks. A conceptual framework for human health risk assessment and mitigation, and future research direction are highlighted.