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Soil, grain and water chemistry and human selenium imbalances in Enshi district, Hubei Province, China

By F.M. Fordyce, G. Zhang, K. Green and X. Liu

Abstract

Many elements which are essential to human and other animal health in small doses can\ud be toxic if ingested in excess. Selenium (Se), a naturally occurring metalloid element is\ud found in all natural materials on earth including rocks, soils, waters, air, plant and\ud animal tissues. Since the early 1930’s, it has been recognised that Se toxicity causes\ud hoof disorders and hair loss in livestock. Se was also identified as an essential trace\ud element to humans and other animals in the late 1950’s. It forms a vital constituent of\ud the biologically important enzyme glutathione peroxidase which acts as an anti-oxidant\ud preventing cell degeneration. Se deficiency has been implicated in the aetiology of\ud several diseases including cancer, muscular dystrophy, muscular sclerosis and cystic\ud fibrosis. Se can be assimilated in humans through several pathways including food,\ud drinking water and inhalation of Se-bearing particles from the atmosphere. In the\ud majority of situations, food is the most important source of Se, as levels in water are\ud very low. The narrow range between deficiency levels (<40 pg per day) and toxic\ud levels in susceptible people (> 900 pg per day) makes it necessary to carefully control\ud the amount of Se in the diet.\ud In China, Se deficiency has been linked to an endemic degenerative heart disease\ud known as Keshan Disease (KD) and an endemic osteoarthropathy which causes\ud deformity of affected joints, known as Kaschin-Beck Disease. These diseases occur in\ud a geographic belt stretching from Heilongjiang Province in north-east China to Yunnan\ud Province in the south-west. In the period between 1959 and 1970, peak KD incidence\ud rates exceeded 40 per 100 000 (approximately 8500 cases per annum) with 1400 - 3000\ud deaths recorded each year. Incidence rates have since fallen to less than 5 per 100 000\ud with approximately 1000 new cases reported annually (Levander, 1986). Se toxicity\ud (selenosis) resulting in hair and nail loss and disorders of the nervous system in the\ud human population, has also been recorded in Enshi District, Hubei Province and in\ud Ziyang County, Shanxi Province. China possesses one of the best epidemiological\ud databases in the world on Se-related diseases which has been used in conjunction with\ud geochemical data to demonstrate a significant geochemical control on human Se\ud exposure. However, the precise geographical areas at risk and the geochemical controls\ud on selenium availability have yet to be established

Topics: Earth Sciences
Publisher: British Geological Survey
Year: 1996
OAI identifier: oai:nora.nerc.ac.uk:8352

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