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Polyaromatic hydrocarbons in biochars and human health risks of food crops grown in biochar-amended soils: A synthesis study

Wang, Jian, Odinga, Emmanuel Stephen, Zhang, Wei, Zhou, Xian, Yang, Bing, Waigi, Michael Gatheru, Gao, Yanzheng
Environment international 2019 v.130 pp. 104899
adults, agricultural land, application rate, biochar, breathing, carbon sequestration, cost effectiveness, food crops, food safety, human health, humans, ingestion, neoplasms, polluted soils, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, risk, risk assessment, soil amendments, soil carbon, toxicity, water quality
Soil amendment with biochars is currently being studied worldwide as a sustainable agricultural practice to improve soil and water quality, increase crop productivity, and augment soil carbon storage. However, the formation of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) during biochar production is inevitable. Therefore, it is crucial to assess the risks in food safety and human health of crops grown in biochar-amended soils. This paper performed a synthesis study of PAH concentrations in biochars and estimated the risks of soils amended with biochars, based on refereed articles published between 2012 and 2018. The PAH concentrations in biochars ranged greatly, with the dominant proportion being 2–3 ringed PAHs (40%–71%). Biochar application increased the PAH levels in soils at drastically varying extents (0.02–3574 μg/kg), which led to a broad range of PAH concentrations in food crops grown in biochar-amended soils. A five-step method was then introduced to assess the toxicity of biochar-borne PAHs to human health. The total mean incremental lifetime cancer risk for adults was estimated to range between 2.0 × 10−6–1.9 × 10−5 via direct contact with and ingestion (inhalation) of contaminated soils or consumption of tainted crops. These results indicated that biochar amendment in soils might pose potential risks to food safety and human health, but the overall cancer risks through exposure to biochar-borne PAHs in soils and food crops were low. Higher application rates (e.g. ≥20 t/ha) of biochars with high PAH contents can be avoided to minimize human cancer risks. Although biochar application in arable farmlands has many environmental and agronomic benefits, holistic and systematic approaches are required to fully assess the benefits and risks before their large-scale adoption. PAHs in biochar may be reduced by improving the biochar production process and developing a cost-effective post-manufacturing treatment.