We use the land for many different purposes such as recreation, residential use and agriculture and as a result it is commonly implicated as a potential exposure risk. The presence of contaminants in the land occurs naturally, as in the case of high levels of arsenic due to underlying geology, and also secondary to anthropogenic sources such as industrial releases and traffic pollution.   The growing awareness of the potential impact on human health has led to regulations and measures which aim to mitigate potential exposure and subsequent harm. (Health Protection Agency, 2012; Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division (Cardiff) - Health Protection Agency, 2009).

 

  • Chemical: As mentioned, industrial processes are the major contributors to chemical land contamination. Public health plays a role in assessing the potential health impacts of acute chemical contamination incidents in addition to providing advice on the potential impact of future industrial processes through the review of Pollution, Prevention and Control applications. NHS Fife Public Health Department were approached, in their capacity as a Community Planning partner, to support urban horticulture developments and advise on any health risks and relevant mitigation measures. 
  • Radiological: Radioactive substances are currently used in a variety of settings such as the nuclear sector, educational establishments and hospitals. Historically they were commonly used by the industrial sector. Prior to the introduction of the Radioactive Substances Act (RSA) 1960 the use and disposal of radioactive substances was largely unregulated in the UK. As a consequence some industrial sites and/or their disposal areas became contaminated. (The Environment Agency, 2012a).  Land which has become contaminated secondary to anthropogenic activities is said to be ‘contaminated with radioactivity’ which contrasts to land which is naturally radioactive secondary to the presence of substances such as radium and radon gas (The Environment Agency, 2012b). The aim of public health is to reduce potential risk to the public from radiation sources.  At a local level, NHS Fife Public Health Department has been working with partners in seeking a resolution to the Dalgety Bay foreshore contamination. The report from COMARE (Committee for Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment – an expert group reporting to the Department of Health and Scottish Government) has been made publically available. The report concludes:

     

    Given that it is known that the potential hazard relating to radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay is due to the intake of 226Ra, a particular pattern of cancers would be expected from epidemiological studies of those that have been exposed to 226Ra, namely bone and head cancers. This signature of exposure has not been found in the cancer incidence data for Dalgety Bay, while there are indications that other (non-radiation) factors are responsible for the excess cases that have been found, and this is so particularly for liver cancer. It is thus very unlikely that the excess cases of liver cancer or of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma during 2000-2009, or of non-melanoma skin cancer during 1975-2002, are due to the presence of 226Ra in the area.

     

 

Useful Documents

Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) (2012) Cancer incidence in the area around Dalgety Bay. Report to Scottish Government, December 2012. Oxon: COMARE. [online] Available from:  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/waste-and-pollution/Waste-1/16293/8969/dalgetybaycomarereport

Health Protection Agency, Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division (2009) An Introduction to Land Contamination for Public Health Professionals. Cardiff: HPA. [online] Available from: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1242198452810 [Accessed: August 5th 2012]

Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) (2002) Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) – A guide for NHS boards in Scotland. [online] Available from: http://www.documents.hps.scot.nhs.uk/environmental/ppc/ppc-guide-v1.pdf [Accessed: August 5th 2012]

Toronto Public Health (2011) Assessing Urban Impacted Soil for Urban Gardening: Decision Support Tool - Technical Report and Rationale. Toronto: City of Toronto. [online] Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/urban_gardening_assessment.pdf [Accessed: January 24th 2013]

 

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