Non-inverted U-shaped challenges to regional sustainability: The health risk of soil heavy metals in coastal China

Xiangbo Xu, Xiaoyan Hu*, Ting Wang, Mingxing Sun*, Le Wang, Linxiu Zhang

Journal Title: Journal of Cleaner Production

Volume/Issue/Page: Volume 279, 10 January 2021, 123746

Published Time: 23 August 2020


Heavy metal pollution has become a significant cause for concern in various fields. However, there is little research available on the relationship between economic development and the health effects of soil heavy metal pollution. We extracted soil heavy metal exposure data (including data on Cd, As, Hg, Pb, and Cr) for 364 counties and 106 prefecture-level cities in the coastal development areas of China from literature published between 2013 and 2018. Using this dataset, we aimed to analyze the spatial distribution of soil heavy metals and their related health risks and explore the relationship between socioeconomic factors and health risks. The results showed that Cd was the dominant soil heavy metal in the coastal development areas of China, and significant positive synergistic relationships were found between Pb and Cr, Hg and As, Hg and Cd, and Cd and As. Although the non-carcinogenic risk and carcinogenic risk induced by the soil heavy metals were low, the overall health risk exhibited a positive synergistic relationship with secondary industry after controlling for concomitant variables. Unlike the concentration trends of water and air pollutants, which show an inverted U-shaped relationship with economic growth, the health risks associated with soil heavy metal pollution continued to increase with economic growth. These health risks increased more rapidly after gross domestic product reached a certain level, indicating the importance of reducing heavy metal pollution during periods of economic development and transition.

Keywords: Heavy metals, Soil, Spatial distribution, Health risk, Economic development, Regional sustainable development

Corresponding author: Xiaoyan Hu,, Mingxing Sun,

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