Human health risk assessment

A case study involving heavy metal soil contamination after the flooding of the river Meuse during the winter of 1993-1994

Harma J. Albering, Sandra M. Van Leusen, Edwin J.C. Moonen, Jurian A. Hoogewerff, Jos C.S. Kleinjans

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At the end of December 1993 and also at the end of January 1995, the river Meuse, one of the major rivers in Europe, flooded and river banks were inundated. We investigated the possible health risks of exposure to heavy metal concentrations in river bank soils resulting from the flooding of the river Meuse at the end of 1993. Soil and deposit samples and corresponding arable and fodder crops were collected and analyzed for heavy metals. Although the soils of the floodplain of the river Meuse appeared severely polluted mainly by Cd and Zn, the heavy metal concentrations in the crops grown on these soils were within background ranges. Incidentally, the legal standard for Cd as endorsed by the Commodities Act was exceeded in wheat crops. The main exposure pathways for the general population were through the consumption of food crops grown on the river banks and through the direct ingestion of contaminated soils. For estimating potential human exposure in relation to soil pollution, we used a multiple pathway exposure model. For estimating the actual risk, we determined metal contents of vegetables grown in six experimental gardens. From this study, it can be concluded that there is a potential health risk for the river bank inhabitants as a consequence of Pb and Cd contaminations of the floodplain soils of the river Meuse, which are frequently inundated (averaged flooding frequency once every 2 years).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-43
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes


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