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Soil Ingestion by Humans: A Review of History, Data, and Etiology with Application to Risk Assessment of Radioactively Contaminated Soil

Simon Steven L.
Health Physics: June 1998
Review Papers: PDF Only

Ingestion of soil by humans has been a documented phenomenon for centuries and still takes place today according to various literature. The literature reviewed here shows that there are two distinct soil ingestion phenomenon: inadvertent and purposeful (geophagia). Certain lifestyles, occupations, and living conditions will likely put different individuals or different groups at risk to these separate, but sometimes related, phenomenon. In particular, reports of geophagia are relatively common for the life stages of adolescence and periods of growth, and during pregnancy and lactation. Geophagia also appears to be relatively common among indigenous peoples on all continents, sometimes taking place to extreme degrees. Because of their high dependence on the land, indigenous peoples are also at highest risk for inadvertent ingestion. Inadvertent intake is more a function of either primitive living conditions or professions that may bring workers into close and continual contact with the soil. It is the purpose of this report to review and summarize literature related to ingestion of soil by humans with emphasis on the relevance of soil ingestion to radiological dose assessment, the etiology of geophagia and its relationship to risk assessment, qualitative observations and quantitative studies of direct soil ingestion by humans with interpretations useful for different lifestyle scenarios, the status of a number of current radiological assessment models in accounting for soil ingestion, and some unresolved issues in modeling the ingestion of soil.

©1998Health Physics Society