Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 651–673 | Cite as

Human health risk assessment related to contaminated land: state of the art

  • F. A. Swartjes
Original Paper


Exposure of humans to contaminants from contaminated land may result in many types of health damage ranging from relatively innocent symptoms such as skin eruption or nausea, on up to cancer or even death. Human health protection is generally considered as a major protection target. State-of-the-art possibilities and limitations of human health risk assessment tools are described in this paper. Human health risk assessment includes two different activities, i.e. the exposure assessment and the hazard assessment. The combination of these is called the risk characterization, which results in an appraisal of the contaminated land. Exposure assessment covers a smart combination of calculations, using exposure models, and measurements in contact media and body liquids and tissue (biomonitoring). Regarding the time frame represented by exposure estimates, biomonitoring generally relates to exposure history, measurements in contact media to actual exposures, while exposure calculations enable a focus on exposure in future situations. The hazard assessment, which is different for contaminants with or without a threshold for effects, results in a critical exposure value. Good human health risk assessment practice accounts for tiered approaches and multiple lines of evidence. Specific attention is given here to phenomena such as the time factor in human health risk assessment, suitability for the local situation, background exposure, combined exposure and harmonization of human health risk assessment tools.


State-of-the-art human health risk assessment Soil pollution Exposure assessment Exposure models Hazard assessment 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute for Public Health and the EnvironmentBilthovenThe Netherlands

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