Thallium contamination, health risk assessment and source apportionment in common vegetables

Juan Liu, Xudong Wei, Yuting Zhou, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Zhi'an Bao, Meiling Yin, Holger Lippold, Wenhuan Yuan, Jin Wang, Yuexing Feng, Diyun Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


As an element with well-known toxicity, excessive thallium (Tl) in farmland soils, may threaten food security and induce extreme risks to human health. Identification of key contamination sources is prerequisite for remediation technologies. This study aims to examine the contamination level, health risks and source apportionment of Tl in common vegetables from typical farmlands distributed over a densely populated residential area in a pyrite mine city, which has been exploiting Tl-bearing pyrite minerals over 50 years. Results showed excessive Tl levels were exhibited in most of the vegetables (0.16–20.33 mg/kg) and alarming health risks may induce from the vegetables via the food chain. Source apportionment of Tl contamination in vegetables was then evaluated by using Pb isotope fingerprinting technique. Both vegetables and soils were characterized with overall low 206Pb/207Pb. This indicated that a significant contribution may be ascribed to the anthropogenic activities involving pyrite deposit exploitation, whose raw material and salgs were featured with lower 206Pb/207Pb. Further calculation by binary mixing model suggested that pyrite mining and smelting activities contributed 54–88% to the thallium contamination in vegetables. The results highlighted that Pb isotope tracing is a suitable technique for source apportionment of Tl contamination in vegetables and prime contamination from pyrite mining/smelting activities urges authorities to initiate proper practices of remediation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number135547
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2020


  • Food safety
  • Isotopic analysis
  • Metal contamination
  • Plant uptake
  • Source apportionment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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