The Science of the total environment

Thallium pollution in China: A geo-environmental perspective.

PMID 21514625


It is well known that thallium (Tl) is a non-essential and toxic metal to human health, but less is known about the geo-environmentally-induced Tl pollution and its associated health impacts. High concentrations of Tl that are primarily associated with the epithermal metallogenesis of sulfide minerals have the potential of producing Tl pollution in the environment, which has been recognized as an emerging pollutant in China. This paper aims to review the research progress in China on Tl pollution in terms of the source, mobility, transportation pathway, and health exposure of Tl and to address the environmental concerns on Tl pollution in a geo-environmental perspective. Tl associated with the epithermal metallogenesis of sulfide minerals has been documented to disperse readily and accumulate through the geo-environmental processes of soil enrichment, water transportation and food crop growth beyond a mineralized zone. The enrichments of Tl in local soil, water, and crops may result in Tl pollution and consequent adverse health effects, e.g. chronic Tl poisoning. Investigation of the baseline Tl in the geo-environment, proper land use and health-related environmental planning and regulation are critical to prevent the Tl pollution. Examination of the human urinary Tl concentration is a quick approach to identify exposure of Tl pollution to humans. The experiences of Tl pollution in China can provide important lessons for many other regions in the world with similar geo-environmental contexts because of the high mobility and toxicity of Tl.