Potential for effects of land contamination on human health. 1. The case of cadmium

Melanie Kah, Len Levy, Colin David Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


A review of the epidemiological literature on the potential effects of land contamination shows that the largest body of research relates to land contaminated by (1) cadmium and (2) waste disposal. First, a brief outline of the key issues related to the study of health impact of land contamination is presented (i.e. types of epidemiological studies available, significance and main exposure pathways). The recent literature is then reviewed for evidence of associations and possible causal relationships between exposure to cadmium from land contamination and health impact. The large number of studies focusing on cadmium arises because of the ready availability of biomarkers of exposure and effect and the demonstrated link between soil cadmium and itai-itai disease (severe renal and bone disorders) via dietary exposure in Japan and China. Where dietary differences yield lower exposures, links have been established between cadmium in soil and biomarkers of renal or bone dysfunctions, but not to health impacts per se. Potential effects of cadmium exposure were also investigated for other health outcomes including hypertension, cancer incidence, preterm delivery and semen parameters. Conversely to renal and bone disorders, results are generally inconsistent and require further lines of evidence. Soil concentrations are not a direct surrogate for exposure and there are examples where residents in locations with very large concentrations of cadmium in soil did not appear to suffer serious health consequences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-363
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B: Critical Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012

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