Institute for Sustainability

Linking disease to contaminated soil

Linking disease to contaminated soil

Soils often contain potentially contaminating elements from society’s industrial present and past. These contaminants present risks to the sustainability of the environment, and human health. Chemicals from industry or other sources, such as nearby landfills, bind to the soil and have the potential to cause disease in humans. 

Linking contaminating elements to disease is sometimes far from straightforward. This is where sustainability researchers from different disciplines working together can make a big difference.

Their goal is to find out how contaminated soil can be managed to prevent chronic disease.

‘Soil is the point at which we interact with the planet. In our research we want to work with health groups and policy makers to identify potential cures to disease and implement changes in regulations to remove contaminants from the soil’, says Dr Martin Cooke.

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) is a rare disease that affects the liver, especially in post-menopausal women. In North East England PBC has been studied for many years and there is a wealth of knowledge about the disease, but the environmental cause remains unknown.

With colleagues in toxicology and environmental science, Martin is comparing maps of the incidences of PBC with maps of the distribution of contaminants in soils in the North East. This will help them find potential overlaps that may provide new avenues of research into PBC.

Selected Publications:

Rothwell KA, Cooke MP. A comparison of methods used to calculate normal background concentrations of potentially toxic elements for urban soil. (2015) Science of the Total Environment, 532:625-634.