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Outline both natural and human activities that alter the elemental concentrations in the

environment (10mks).

Human Activities

Humans interact with the world around us every day, but some of our actions are more harmful

than others. As our population approaches 7 billion people, the effects of human activities on the

elemental concentration in the environment, including the water, air, land and the life that we share

the world with, are almost immeasurable.

a. Use of Phosphorus fertilizers:

The introduction and use of commercial synthetic fertilizers to boost plant growth are the main

contributors to humans influences on the phosphorus cycle. As plants may not be able to utilize

all of the phosphate fertilizer applied, which results in the phosphate fertilizers being transferred

through the water run-off to water bodies in that area. This excessive run-off of phosphate

eventually end up in streams or other water bodies which results in the changes of habitats and

their equilibrium, and is eventually precipitated as sediments at the bottom of the water bodies. In

certain lakes and ponds, this extra phosphate may be re-dissolved and recycled as a problem


Other human sources of phosphate include the outflows from sewage treatment plants. Without

the proper tertiary treatment which is expensive, the phosphate in the sewage would not be

removed during various treatment operations, resulting in an extra amount of phosphate entering

the water bodies and polluting them. As phosphate are released in small amounts in its accessible

form in its original natural cycle, this extra phosphate released by human activities results in a

change in the original phosphate cycle. This extra phosphate in water bodies are also a major
contributor to the process of eutrophication, which causes excessive growth of water plants and

algae populations.

b. Usage of Fossil Fuels and Reduction of Carbon Sinks:

Fossil fuels are one of the reservoirs for carbon in the carbon cycle. Mining of fossil fuels from

the earth crust and using them to generate electricity especially since the industrial revolution, has

resulted in the release of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in large amounts.

Further exacerbating the change in the carbon cycle, other human activities such as the clearing of

vegetation, through deforestation or cutting of plants, results in lesser carbon sinks, further

increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In addition, forest fire due to

deforestation or other causes, also results in the increase of carbon dioxide released. This excessive

release of carbon dioxide has led to carbon dioxide being one of the highest greenhouse gas

contributing to global warming and climate change nowadays.

c. Production of Sulphur dioxide:

Human activities, particularly our industrial activities, which involves the burning of coal and the

internal combustion engine results in the production of Sulphur dioxide, causing an impact on the

Sulphur cycle. Sulphur dioxide when released in their unnaturally excessive amounts can cause

several damage to the environment. Sulphur dioxide can precipitate onto surfaces where it can be

oxidized to sulphate in the soil, which is toxic to some plants. Sulphur dioxide can also be reduced

to sulphide in the atmosphere or be oxidized to sulphate in the atmosphere as sulphuric acid, which

is a principal component of acid rain. Acid rain, causes acidification of lakes and streams and

contributes to the damage of trees at high elevations and many sensitive forest soils, in turn

resulting to changes in certain components of other nutrient cycles as well. As sulphur compounds

play an important role for the formation of clouds, they play a big role in the climate system and
any changes made to them or to their availability in the environment and result in changes to the

whole system.

d. Production of Nitrogen:

Extensive cultivation of legumes, creation of nitrogen fertilizers, pollution emitted by vehicles and

industrial plants, are some ways of how humans have increased the amount of nitrogen in

biologically available forms. Firstly, the application of nitrogen fertilizers to increase agricultural

crop production has resulted in the increased rates of denitrification and leaching of nitrate into

groundwater. This excessive amount of nitrogen entering the groundwater system would

eventually flow into other water bodies such as streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries, and can also

lead to the process of eutrophication, which causes excessive growth of water plants and algae

populations. Another agricultural practice which affects the nitrogen cycle includes livestock

ranching. These livestock release large amounts of the element nitrogen in the compound

ammonia, into the environment through their excretions. This nitrogen would then enter the soil

system, before entering the hydrologic system through leaching, groundwater flow, and runoff.

Other human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and forest burning to clear forest areas for

agricultural spaces also results in the increased deposition of nitrogen from atmospheric sources.

This then release nitrogen in a variety of solid forms through combustion. Sewage waste and septic

tank leaching are also examples of how humans and our activities contribute to this large increase

of nitrogen being released.

e. Vehicle Emissions:

Another contributor to pollutions would be our usage of vehicles. Vehicle usage and ownership

has been having a steep increase, and has now caused significant emissions that have negative

impacts to the environment. Vehicle emissions include the release of substances such as Mono-
nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2), Carbon monoxide and Carbon dioxide, and other hazardous air

pollutants. The extensive release of these substances affects the amount of the elements, such as

nitrogen and carbon, in the atmosphere and in turn affect and result in changes to their nutrient


f. Genetic Modification

The use of genetic modified organisms, has played an important role in increasing crop yields so

we can feed our populations. In addition to providing better crop yields, modified plants are better

able to resist disease and parasites, tolerate more extreme temperatures, or thrive with less water.

However, this modification has led to the continued use of herbicides, like glyphosate which cause

soil and environmental degradation, killing off major elements in the soil.

g. Deforestation

For every corn field you see, chances are good there was once a forest in its place. As our

population continues to increase, humans create more and larger farms, which means removing

the dwindling number of forests. Forests are also cleared for the lumber that we use to build our

houses and to make room for new houses. This has devastating effects to the environment through

soil erosion taking away all the important nutrients such as nitrates from the soil thus degrading it.

Natural Activities

a. Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic eruptions can sometimes have a significant impact on elements in the environment. The

large quantities of dust and ash scattered by huge eruptions may circulate for some time and reflect

solar radiation, disrupting the normal distribution of elements in the atmosphere. The balance

between oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen among others is thus affected.

b. Solar Output

The sun's output shows small variations over the course of an 11-year cycle, so the average amount

of solar radiation that reaches Earth's outer atmosphere, varies by about 1.4 watts per square meter

over this time frame. These cyclic changes correlate with the number and frequency of sunspots,

the so-called solar cycle which in turn affects the distribution of elements in air.

c. Water Vapor

Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, although changes in its

concentration are typically a result of temperature changes. Consequently, water vapor can act as

part of feedback loops, where an increase in temperature triggers an increase in water evaporation,

which triggers an increase in temperature and so changes in element concentration at various


d. Other Greenhouse gases

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas created by many bacteria in oxygen-poor environments like

swamps and bogs. Humans have increased atmospheric methane concentrations though agriculture

and using natural gas. Carbon dioxide is released by animals and other organisms as part of

respiration; plants take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and fix it into organic compounds.

At one point in the Earth's history, a natural imbalance in the amount of carbon dioxide released

by respiration vs. the amount fixed by photosynthesis had a significant effect on Earth's climate.

Several hundred million years ago during the Carboniferous period, vast swamp forests of seedless

vascular plants fixed huge amounts of carbon, causing atmospheric CO2 concentrations to drop

fivefold. The resulting global cooling led to an ice age.

2. Describe factors influencing presence of elements in the human body (10mks)

Elements may be present at toxic or deficient levels within the environment, but may not

necessarily pose a direct risk to health. Exposure, and more importantly bioavailability, depends

on a number of factors including concentration in the source, soil type, particle size as well as the

specific physical and chemical properties of the contaminant itself. In other words, the

concentration of an element in the soil or other medium is not sufficient to provide biological

availability to the individual organism.

a. Source of elements

There are a variety of sources of elements that reach the human body and they include:

Food calcium, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium, iron, manganese, iodine, silcon,

protein, fluorine among others.

Water Chlorine, fluorine, potassium among others

Soil Iron, potassium, calcium, nitrogen among others.

b. Soil type

Different types of soils do contain variety of nutrients which include: roam, sand and clay soils do

contain elements such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium,

magnesium, sulfur, iron and manganese among others.

c. Particles size

The size of the elements determines the entry point into the body which can be via inhalation, it

can be through ingestion or absorption through the skin.

d. Chemical and Physical properties of elements

Such properties like the solubility, particle size, pH, do determine the rate of absorption and

retaining within the body.

e. Bioavailability

Bioavailability is the fraction or amount of element, which is actually available for uptake by living

matter. The fate of elements within soil are governed by the chemical system of the soil and are

characterized by:

the heterogeneous distribution of compounds,

seasonal and spatial alterations in physical and chemical properties (e.g., pH),

the transformation of chemical species (e.g., electron transfer reactions, diffusion-

adsorption into solids), and

bio-uptake and bio-accumulation.

3. As an environmental officer, you have been given an opportunity to educate the public

ways of reducing radon levels in houses, outline the best approaches/interventions you will

give to the public (10mks)

a. Sealing visible cracks is a basic part of most radon mitigation approaches. Sealing cracks

reduces the flow of radon into your home and is often used with other radon methods. However,

by itself sealing has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently. It is difficult

to find all of the cracks and gaps in your house. Also, settling and stresses can create more cracks,

so continuing maintenance is necessary.

b. Opening doors and windows to dilute the radon may sometimes be effective, but it is NOT a

practical long-term solution.

c. Sub-slab depressurization: Most commonly installed system is called sub-slab

depressurization. The system is simple, effective and energy-efficient. It uses plumbing-type PVC

pipe and a small fan to remove radon. Suction created by fan draws radon from beneath the

concrete slab and safely vents radon outdoors. Sub-slab suction draws out radon, which

accumulates under the concrete slab, and vents it away from the house.

d. A heat recovery ventilation system increases ventilation and uses the heated or cooled air

being exhausted to warm or cool the incoming air. Heat recovery ventilation systems are more

effective in reducing radon levels when used to ventilate only the basement. They are generally

not used in crawl spaces.

e. Block-wall ventilation draws radon from the spaces within concrete block before it can enter

the home. It is used most often with sub-slab suction. Block-wall suction may not work if you

cannot seal the top of the walls, the space between the walls and any exterior veneer, and openings

that could be concealed by masonry fireplaces or chimney.

f. By covering exposed earth with high-density polyethylene plastic, you reduce the flow of

radon into the house. Exposed earth in basement cold rooms, storage areas, drain areas, sumps,

and crawl spaces is often a major entry point for radon. But covering exposed earth may not be

enough to solve your radon problems.

g. Drain water away from the foundation of their house by perforated pipes called footing tiles.

If these drain tiles form a continuous loop around the house and drain into a sump, you can apply

suction to the sump. Drain-tile suction pulls radon from the surrounding soil and vents it away

from the house.

4. Citing relevant examples, explain the connection between water hardness and health


Benefits of hard water

a. Role in Cardiovascular Diseases

An inverse relationship between hardness and cardiovascular disease has been reported in men

after allowing for climatic and certain social factors, but only up to about 170 mg of calcium

carbonate. Thus hard water has a protective association, lowers cardiovascular mortality, causes a

1 % decrease in further heart attack and lowers ischemic heart diseases.

b. Cancer

Important findings in recent studies indicate a negative statistical association of various types of

cancer morbidity/mortality with the hardness of water and calcium. Some studies suggest there

was a significant protective effect of calcium intake from drinking water on the risk of gastric

cancer. Magnesium also exerted a protective effect against gastric cancer, but only for the group

with the highest levels of magnesium exposure.

c. Cerebrovascular mortality

Some reports suggest there is a significant protective effect of magnesium intake from the drinking

water on the risk of cerebrovascular disease. Despite their inherent limitations, studies on the

ecological correlation between mortality and environmental exposures have been used widely to

generate or discredit epidemiological hypotheses. Controlling for magnesium levels eliminates the

perceived effect of calcium levels on cerebrovascular mortality.

d. Diabetes

Hard water is indicative of the presence of higher levels of magnesium. In certain areas, drinking

water actually contains 100% or more of the recommended daily allowance about magnesium,

which is around 300-400 mg daily with levels varying according to gender and age. Because, all

kinases and other ATP-related enzymes and channels regulating insulin action are dependent on

magnesium, it is not surprising that serum magnesium concentrations have been found to be

decreased in non-diabetic subjects with metabolic syndrome and that hypomagnesaemia is a

common feature in subjects with type-2 diabetes.

e. Kidney stones

The hardness of water is due to the presence of carbonate and sulfate salts of calcium and

magnesium. Stones form in urine that is supersaturated and this saturation is dependent on

chemical free ion activity, which makes the urine under-saturated. In this situation, the stone will

not grow and may even dissolve. Increased urinary ion excretion and decreased urine volume will

both an increase free ion activity and favor stone formation and growth. Formation of kidney stones

(nephrolithiasis) is based on genetic, metabolic, nutritional and environmental factors.

Hard water ill effects

a. Mineral Imbalance in Body: Excessive Ca may affect the iron and zinc absorption, lower down

the absorption of Mg, causes disorders in the different body systems and vitamin D required for

efficient utilization of calcium.

b. Effect of Hard Water on Stomach: Leads to stomach disorders especially when contain

MgSO4 and can weaken the stomach permanently.

c. Renal Calcium Stones: Causes increased risk of calcium stones, increases the amount and

timing of dietary Ca effect, 50% increase in urinary Ca concentration.

5. Outline the health implications of the East African Rift-Valley volcanism on health


a. Podoconiosis (non-filarial elephantiasis)

The disease was recognized before the Second World War in EARV, but it was not until relatively

recently that it was shown, without any doubt, to be a geochemical disease. The disease was found

to be prevalent in high-altitude areas (>1,250 m) of modest average temperature (20C) and high,

hot seasonal rainfall (>1,000 mm annually), with dominantly fine reddish-brown volcanic soils. It

decreased where the characteristics of the soil changed from volcanic to sandy soil and the climate

became dry.

Clinical Features of Podoconiosis:

Swelling and deformity of the legs associated with enlargement of the draining lymph


Histopathological examination of these nodes showed them to contain bi-refringent


Recent studies in the Ethiopian Rift Valley (ERV) have confirmed their geogenic origin

from analysis of soil from an area of high prevalence

b. Geophagia

This is common among certain communities in and around the Rift Valley. It appears that the

preferred soil-type (usually volcanic, clayrich) satisfies some kind of craving of the geophagist.

Respiratory diseases
In East Africa this is of important public health concern, because respiratory infections are one of

the leading causes of morbidity in the region. Along the EARV, volcanic dust particles constitute

a substantial component of the atmospheric aerosol, especially on dry, windy, days. Millions of

people along the Valley are exposed to volcanic dust because of the re-suspension of particles from

volcanic soils by motor vehicles, quarry or construction work, farming, domestic activities, and

wind erosion. These particles slowly accumulate in the lungs and are capable of causing asthma,

silicosis, tuberculosis reactivation, and lung cancer.

c. Trace element imbalances in man and animals

Correlations between geochemical diseases and trace element imbalances along the EARV are

legion. Recently available data for trace element distribution indicate that poses the most serious

health problem, especially with regard to drinking water. It is emphasized that the medical

profession should be made aware of these links in order to enhance diagnostic capacity and therapy

for these diseases.

d. Flourosis

The volcanic rocks of the Eastern Rift contain higher concentrations of Fluoride than analogous

rocks in other regions. The mechanism of Xuoride build-up in the Rift Valley domain, especially

the natural water system is now fairly well understood. Fluoride in minor amounts (around 1.3 mg

l1) reduces dental decay and enhances proper development of the bone. A similar level of

flouoride intake may also be beneficial to animals. When the amount of flouoride consumed is

either too low or much too high, undesirable physiological consequences appear, such as dental

caries, mottled staining of the teeth, and flouorosis, i.e. malformed bone structure in both human

and animals.
e. Iodine-deficiency disorders

Concentrations much below this mean value are frequently associated with the occurrence of goitre

and its sequelae, collectively referred to as iodine-deficiency disorders. These have been

recognized in several areas of the EARV. The EARV is characterised by huge differences in

elevation, largely as a result of faulting. The mountainous areas thus constitute a barrier to the

transport of the central continental areas. The leaching of the originally supplied by volcanic

activity, from acid mineralized soils is also an important determinant of the elements geographical

distribution. Thus, the most notorious goitre areas in the EARV are the lee sides of high-altitude

areas such as the Kericho District in the KRV, which records the highest goitre prevalence in the

region (72.4% of children have goitre; and where the soil has been depleted by leaching by heavy

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