Rapid development, industrialisation, and urbanisation have resulted in serious contamination of soil by metals and metalloids from anthropogenic sources in many areas of the world, either directly or indirectly. Exponential urban and economic development has resulted in human populations settling in urban areas and as a result being exposed to these pollutants. Depending on the nature of the contaminant, contaminated urban soils can have a deleterious effect on the health of exposed populations and may require decontamination, recovery, remediation and restoration. Therefore, human health risk assessments in urban environments are very important. In the case of Spain, there are few studies regarding risk assessment of trace elements in urban soils, and those that exist have been derived mainly from areas potentially exposed to industrial contamination or in the vicinity of point pollution. The present study analysed Al, As, Be, Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sn, Ti, Tl, V and Zn soil concentrations in and around the city of Alcalá de Henares (35 km NE of Madrid). Soil samples were collected in public parks and recreation areas within the city and in an industrial area on the periphery of the city. From these results, an assessment of the health risk for the population was performed following the methodology described by the US EPA (1989). In general, it was observed that there could be a potential increased risk of developing cancer over a lifetime from exposure to arsenic (As) through ingestion of the soils studied (oral intake), as well as an increased risk of cancer due to inhalation of chromium (Cr) present in re-suspended soils from the industrial area. Our group has previously reported (Granero and Domingo, 2002; Peña-Fernández et al., 2003) that there was an increased risk of developing cancer following exposure to As in the same soils in a previous study. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the levels of contaminants in these soils, especially As and Cr as these have been found to exceed safe levels for human health.
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