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Human Health and Soil Health Risks from Heavy Metals, Micro(nano)plastics, and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Agricultural Soils (2022)

Perković S., Paul C., Vasić F., Helming K.

Agronomy, 12 (12), 2945



Humans are exposed to agricultural soils through inhalation, dermal contact, or the consumption of food. Human health may be at risk when soils are contaminated; while some soil contaminants such as heavy metals (HMs) have been extensively studied, others such as micro(nano)plastics (MNPs) or antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) pose novel threats. This paper investigates the linkages between soil contamination and human health risk by reviewing the state of knowledge on HMs, MNPs, and ARB in agricultural soils. A keyword-based search in Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar was conducted, complemented with a backward snowball search. We analysed main sources of contamination for agricultural soils, risks to human health differentiated by uptake pathway (ingestion, inhalation, dermal), and interactions of contaminants with microorganism, soil fauna, and plants. Results show that the emergence and spread of ARB and antibiotic resistant genes from agricultural soils and their contribution to antibiotic resistances of human pathogens is recognized as a significant threat. Likewise, a growing body of evidence indicates that MNPs are able to enter the food chain and to have potentially harmful effects on human health. For HM, knowledge of the effects on human health is well established. Multiple agricultural practices increase HM concentrations in soils, which may lead to adverse health effects from the ingestion of contaminated products or inhalation of contaminated soil particles. Severe knowledge gaps exist about the pathways of the contaminants, their behaviour in soil, and human uptake. Little is known about long-term exposure and impacts of MNPs, antibiotics and ARB on human health or about the possible combined effects of MNPs, ARB, and HMs. Missing monitoring systems inhibit a comprehensive assessment of human health risks. Our research demonstrates the need for human health risk assessment in the context of agricultural soils, in particular to be able to assess risks related to measures reinforcing the concept of the circular economy.

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