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Human waste as a tool in biogeoohemioal surveys from mangampeta barite mining area, Kadapa District, Andhra Pradesh, India.


Living organisms, plants, animals, and human beings are conditioned in greater or lesser degree by the chemistry of their environment, as the chemical elements are derived primarily from the Earth. In recent decades there has been an increase in awareness of the importance of the interaction of mammalian systems with their natural environment. Hence, biogeochemistry has gained importance and its scope in recent years has been extended to the health aspects of the environment, which has paved the way for a new field of science called "geo-medicine" or "medical geology." Geo-medicine is defined as "the science dealing with the influence of ordinary environmental factors on the geographical distribution of pathological and nutritional problems of human and animal health" (Lag, 1983). Many workers have discussed trace element imbalances in soil-water-plant-animal systems and their eventual effects on human health (Bowie & Webb, 1980; Thornton, 1983; Underwood, 1971). In this context, the concept of "biogeochemical province" was introduced (Vinogradov, 1964). It consists of two categories, 1) zonal, i.e., strongly influenced by climate and soil type and 2) intrazonal, which is influenced by local enrichment of elements due to the existence of ore bodies and their associated dispersion halos. In such provinces, plants and animals conspicuously exhibit indicator characteristics, which may be morphological or physiological. On this basis, termites, cattle, dogs, fish, and birds can also be employed as bioindicators in mineral exploration (Brooks, 1983).


In the present study, we attempted to study the biogeochemical interactions between humans and their environment by analyzing fecal material and urine in an intrazonal biogeochemical province and to distinguish the bioindicator characteristics of human beings for use in different problems of applied environmental geochemistry.

Study Area

The Mangampeta (latitude 1401' N and longitude 79[degrees]19' E) barite area, an intrazonal biogeochemical province, is located in Kadapa District in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (Figure 1). It is the world's largest bedded barite deposit, contributing to approximately 28% of the total known reserves of barite in the world. Mangampeta is a rural area in a semiarid tract and is included in the Survey of India toposheet No. 57 N/8. The ore is being excavated through open-cast mining. This area consists of quartzites, shales, and dolomites of Proterozoic age. This deposit is also associated with minor occurrences of quartz, pyrite, chalcopyrite, azurite, and malachite.

In the Mangampeta mining area, the predominantly occurring plants are Tephrosia purpurea, Tridax procumbens, Ocimum sanctum, Anisomeles malabarica, Cissus quadrangularis, Kirganelia reticulata, and Citrillus colocynthis, Some important tree species in this area include Pongamia pinnata and Prosopis juliflora, Agricultural lands with paddy and plantations such as banana, lemon, orange, and mango cover the plains around Mangampeta (Raghu, 2001). The hilly areas and some portions of the plains are covered with scrub vegetation,

Mangampeta, which is at 180 m above mean sea level (MSL), experiences a tropical climate throughout the year, During summer season, temperatures range from 34[degrees]C to 43[degrees]C and in winter the minimum temperatures range between 14C and 29[degrees]C. Generally, summer season is from March to June and the rainy season starts with arrival of the southwest monsoon in June and ends by September. The influence of the northeast monsoon (October to December) is due to cyclonic depressions formed in the Bay of Bengal, Due to vagaries of the monsoon, rainfall in the Mangampeta area is precarious and erratic, After the rainy season, the winter season starts and continues till the end of February. During the southwest monsoon, relative humidity is high, reaching 100%, The wind velocity ranges from 12-25 km/h, The soil moisture content varies from 30% to 42%, The average annual rainfall of Mangampeta is 840 mm, The monsoon failing to happen generally has a disastrous effect on the agriculture sector, as a large share of population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.

For the purpose of comparison, Tirupati (latitude 13[degrees]38' N and longitude 79[degrees]24' E) urban area of Chittoor District (Figure 1) was chosen as a nonmineralized area, Within the Tirupati area, Sri Venkateswara University campus was selected, This area is included in the Survey of India toposheet No, 57 O/6, The Tirupati area consists of granites and granite gneisses of Archean age traversed by dyke swarms, In the north of the Tirupati area, these granites are overlain by Nagari quartzites, which form part of the Cuddapah Supergroup.

Sri Venkateswara University campus is located in the Tirupati urban area, The dominant plant species on the campus are Leucas aspera, Celosia viridis, Acalypha indica, Mimosa pudica, and Sida cardifolia, The important tree species present on the campus are Limonia acidissima, Melia azedarach, Bauhinia purpurea, and Pterocarpus marsupium.

Tirupati also has a tropical climate throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 32[degrees]C to 45[degrees]C during the summer. In winter, the temperatures range between 13[degrees]C and 33[degrees]C. Usually, summer lasts from March to June and the rainy season starts with the advent of the southwest monsoon in July and ends with the receding of the northeast monsoon by November. The rainfall received from the northeast monsoon is comparatively more due to depressions formed in the Bay of Bengal. Tirupati, which is at 160 m above MSL, has precarious, uneven, and erratic rainfall. The rainy season is followed by winter, which lasts till the end of February. During the southwest monsoon, relative humidity is high, reaching 99%. The remaining period of the year, the air generally is dry; the summer season is the driest part of the year. The average wind velocity ranges from 10-18 km/h and occasionally goes up to 22 km/h. The average annual rainfall in Tirupati is 1,088 mm, The soil moisture content varies from 28% to 45% (Kavitha, 2010).


Mangampeta barite mine laborers consisting of 15 male and 15 female members in the age group of 25-35 years were chosen, The fecal and urine output of each member were separately collected in plastic containers, Samples from all members of each sex were combined to obtain a composite sample of feces and urine, Similarly, composite samples of feces and urine were collected from 15 male hostel students of the same age group from Sri Venkateswara University campus, Tirupati.

The human beings selected for sample collection did not exhibit any physically detectable signs of disease, Further, the sample collection in both the mineralized and non-mineralized areas was made within a week to avoid seasonal variations.

Trace Element Analysis

Moisture from the feces and water content from the urine was eliminated by keeping the samples at 110[degrees]C in a hot air oven for eight hours, Further, organic matter from the moisture-free samples was expelled by placing the samples at 500[degrees]C in a muffle furnace for three hours. Each ashed sample weighing 0.5 g was digested in 2M hydrochloric acid and analyzed for barium, strontium, copper, lead, zinc, manganese, nickel, cobalt, chromium, and cadmium by atomic absorption spectrophotometry (Table 1).

Results and Discussion

Feces (555 parts per million [ppm]) and urine (102 ppm) of Mangampeta men contained a higher concentration of barium than Tirupati men, reflecting the concentration of barium in the surrounding environment. Barium, nickel, chromium, and cadmium were found to be 3 times higher, while cobalt was found to be marginally higher in feces of Mangampeta men than those of Tirupati men. Barium and chromium were not detected in the urine of Tirupati men, but were present in the urine of Mangampeta men. Strontium, zinc, nickel, and cobalt were 1.5 times higher in the urine of Mangampeta men than in Tirupati men.

In Mangampeta, the concentration of copper, nickel, cobalt, chromium, and cadmium in feces and these compounds in urine were higher in men than in women. Irrespective of the area and person's sex, barium concentration was detected higher in feces than in urine. In addition, in both areas and in both sexes, the concentrations of strontium, copper, lead, zinc, manganese, chromium, and cadmium were higher in feces than in urine (Table 1). It is interesting to note that heavy metals, namely copper, lead, zinc, manganese, and strontium in feces and lead and manganese in urine were higher in Tirupati men than in Mangampeta men. This could be attributed to the food intake of the subjects being from different sources. Soetan and coauthors (2010) stated that cobalt is readily absorbed into the blood stream and excreted primarily in the urine, whereas the urinary excretion of zinc is low and would not vary markedly with the dietary supply. A statistical parameter to analyze variance, ANOVA, was applied to the data; no significant difference was found between Mangampeta and Tirupati areas, male and female samples, and urine and feces.

Water in the Mangampeta barite mine pit, which is used for irrigation of coconut plantations as well as other agricultural purposes, showed higher concentration of barium (133 ppm), strontium (1,835 ppm), and chromium (19 ppm) on ash weight basis than those elements in coconut water (Prasad & Raghu, 1994). The concentration of barium in soils of Mangampeta ranges from 110 ppm to 579 ppm, while strontium ranges from 14 ppm to 31 ppm (Raghu, 2001).

The greatest environmental health hazard to workers in barite mining areas is inhaling the microscopic-sized dust particles created from the blasting and mining. Excessive inhalation of barite causes baritosis, which is one form of pneumoconiosis, a diagnosable disease of the lungs wherein the tissues of the lungs react to the accumulation of dust in them, resulting in impaired lung function. The size composition, duration of exposure, and concentration of the fine dust are critical in determining the onset of baritosis. The presence of metals in the barite are more of a health concern than the barite itself, as it is quite harmless and causes no other acute health problem other than choking, unless inhaled in very large amounts. In particular, it is the mineral quartz, ores of copper, and lead associated with barite as impurities that are more hazardous to health. The inhalation of such types of dust causes massive fibrosis. If long-term exposure to barite exists, enough to cause pulmonary disease and the person also has rheumatoid arthritis, there exists a potential for bronchogenic cancer. The total composition of the ore, including the "gangue" minerals (commercially worthless, nonmetallic minerals) cannot be neglected in ascertaining the cause of pneumoconiosis.

An excess, deficiency, or imbalance of inorganic elements originating from geological sources can affect human and animal well-being either directly or indirectly. It is an established fact that through food chain ingestion and inhalation of atmospheric dusts and gases, human health is directly linked to our geology. In the present study, the ore element barium is entering the human body through water, food, and inhaled particulates and is excreted in human feces and urine. As a result, the feces and urine of male laborers working at Mangampeta barite mining area showed a higher concentration of barium than men in the nonmineralized Tirupati area. There is little comprehensive information on correlations of trace elements between dietary intake and the three biological media (blood, urine, and feces) and interelement interactions within blood, urine, and feces in healthy people (Wang et al., 2012).

Pollution in the environment and human exposure to various metallic and nonmetallic elements occurs in natural activities, but more particularly to mining and industrial workers. Oxman and co-authors (1993) stated that "occupational dust is an important cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the risk appears to be greater for gold miners than for coal miners and one possible explanation of the greater risk among gold miners is the higher silica content in gold mine dust." The concentration of fluoride in dung, urine, and milk of certain grazing animals was studied in two places within the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh: Podili, an endemic fluorosis area, and Tirupati, a nonfluorosis area. The study showed the fluoride content of urine in animals is suitable for preparation of biogeochemical atlases to study the environmental effect in relation to human health (Reddy, Prasad, & Raju, 1999). A significant correlation between nickel in workers' urine and airborne nickel (r = .96) was detected and a considerable difference was observed in the concentration of nickel in workers' urine between pre- and post-shift samples. The researchers concluded that urinary nickel can be used as a reliable internal dose bioindicator in biological monitoring of workers exposed to nickel sulfate in galvanizing plants regardless of the day of the workweek on which the samples are collected (Oliveira, de Siqueira, & da Silva, 2000).

Quinlan and co-authors (2001) stated that further research is needed to more clearly link health effects to particular business practices and neoliberal policies and to explore the regulatory implications of the growth of precarious employment, and then suggested ways to conceptualize the association between precarious employment and occupational health. Donoghue (2004) outlined the physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic, and psychosocial occupational health hazards of mining and associated metallurgical processes and stated that vigilance is required to ensure exposures to coal dust and crystalline silica remain effectively controlled. Serum hepatic inflammatory functions were significantly altered in workers exposed to high nickel levels, as compared to moderate exposure and control group. The results of the study indicated that exposure to soluble nickel compounds had consistent effect on hepatic inflammatory function in nickel-exposed workers (Ravibabu, Rajmohan, & Rajan, 2006).

Changes in catecholamines in the urine of workers exposed to noise was evaluated at a copper industry; it was observed that noise reduction by ear plugs led to almost significant reductions in urinary epinephrine and a considerable decrease in norepinephrine. These results showed that with noise reduction, the urinary excretion of stress hormones, especially norepinephrine, significantly decreased and thus workers probably were less prone to stress-related disorders (Ghotbi et al., 2013).

Human exposure to arsenic and mercury was assessed in the urine of artisanal miners and it was estimated that the levels of both arsenic and mercury were relatively high compared to other studies because none of the artisanal gold miners used any personal protective equipment in the course of their work. This was coupled with poor hygienic practices (Dartey, Sarpong, Darko, & Acheampong-Marfo, 2013).

There is not much literature on using feces and urine as indicators in biogeoscience and mineral exploration. Based on the available literature, however, it seems that urine is a more sensitive marker of occupational health hazards than feces. In the present work, though, we used both urine and feces as bioindicators in our biogeochemical surveys.

Webb (1964) stated that:

    The link between human health
    and geology is even more complex,
    since the food we eat varies widely
    both in composition and place of
    origin. Our water and milk may
    come from distant places. Human
    beings too move about from one
    geological environment to another.
    Processing, both in the factory
    and at home, can materially affect
    the content and availability of the
    mineral constituents of food and
    beverages. Atmospheric pollution
    particularly in the urban areas is

Underwood (1980) stated that:

Trace element deficiencies and toxicities in man are more difficult to relate to the geochemical environment than in grazing animals because

1) the geographical and hence the geochemical sources of human foods and beverages are continually widening, so that the overall diet usually contains materials grown or produced on a range of soil types;

2) modern dietaries, especially in the Western world, contain a wide variety of types of food so that trace element abnormalities that may be present in one type may be offset or counteracted by the consumption of other food items with no such abnormalities; and

3) technological developments in agriculture, i.e., food production, and in food processing, result in gains and losses of trace elements from foods, which can erode the directness of the relation between man and his natural geochemical environment.

Geoscientists and medical researchers bring to medical geology an arsenal of valuable techniques and tools that can be applied to health problems caused by geologic materials and processes. Although some of these tools may be common to both disciplines, practitioners of these disciplines commonly apply them in novel ways or with unique perspectives. In this context, unlike in the Western world, people in rural areas of India derive their dietary materials from their surrounding habitat. Thus, fecal material and urine output from human beings can be used as tools in biogeochemical orientation surveys.


Different sampling media, such as soils, stream and lake sediments, waters, and vegetation have been utilized for establishing multi-element atlases for effective study of environmental geochemistry (Howarth & Thornton, 1983). For such a purpose, human feces and urine also serve as a significant sampling media. Human feces and urine can be utilized as tools in biogeochemical orientation surveys as there exists a direct relationship between humans and their surrounding natural geochemical environment in the rural areas of India.

Vangeepuram Raghu, MSc, PhD

Andhra Pradesh Space

Applications Centre

Acknowledgements: I am highly indebted to my Research Supervisor, Late Professor E.A.V Prasad, Department of Geology, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, but for whose motivation and supervision this work would not have been attempted. Grateful thanks are due to Professor B.L.K. Somayajulu, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmadabad, for providing facilities to carry out the trace element analysis. I owe a great deal to the Council of Scientihc and Industrial Research, New Delhi, for providing my Senior Research Fellowship during my PhD research work at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Corresponding Author: Vangeepuram Raghu, Scientist "SE," Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre, Planning Department, 3-6-438/1, First Floor, Naspur House, Himayatnagar, Hyderabad, Telangana, India PIN 500 029. E-mail:


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Trace Elements (Parts per Million) in Human Feces and Urine

                           Elements (Detection Limits)

                  Barium   Strontium   Copper    Lead     Zinc
Sample            (0.10)    (0.04)     (0.03)   (0.20)   (0.02)

barite mining
  Feces (men)      555        844       138      372      560
  Feces (women)    553        927       136      1134     560
  Urine (men)      102        97         8        ND       31
  Urine (women)    127        112        ND       ND       31

Tirupati area
  Feces (men)      156       1633       530      1200     2444
  Urine (men)       ND        56         10       17       16

                              Elements (Detection Limits)

                  Manganese   Nickel   Cobalt   Chromium   Cadmium
Sample             (0.03)     (0.08)   (0.07)    (0.05)    (0.006)

barite mining
  Feces (men)        514       600       98       138        20
  Feces (women)      624       NDa       50        58         5
  Urine (men)        36        124       50        39         1
  Urine (women)      47         76       61        20        ND
Tirupati area
  Feces (men)        904       200       82        37         6
  Urine (men)        51         67       30        ND         3

(a) ND = not detected.
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Author:Raghu, Vangeepuram
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 1, 2016
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