Chemical-based risk assessment and in vitro models of human health effects induced by organic pollutants in soils from the Olona valley

Diego Baderna, Andrea Colombo, Giorgia Amodei, Stefano Cantú, Federico Teoldi, Felice Cambria, Giuseppe Rotella, Fabrizio Natolino, Marco Lodi, Emilio Benfenati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Risk assessment of soils is usually based on chemical measurements and assuming accidental soil ingestion and evaluating induced toxic and carcinogenic effects. Recently biological tools have been coupled to chemical-based risk assessment since they integrate the biological effects of all xenobiotics in soils. We employed integrated monitoring of soils based on chemical analyses, risk assessment and in vitro models in the highly urbanized semirural area of the Olona Valley in northern Italy. Chemical characterization of the soils indicated low levels of toxic and carcinogenic pollutants such as PAHs, PCDD/Fs, PCBs and HCB and human risk assessment did not give any significant alerts. HepG2 and BALB/c 3T3 cells were used as a model for the human liver and as a tool for the evaluation of carcinogenic potential. Cells were treated with soil extractable organic matters (EOMs) and the MTS assay, LDH release and morphological transformation were selected as endpoints for toxicity and carcinogenicity. Soil EOMs induced dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth at low doses and cytotoxicity after exposure to higher doses. This might be the result of block of cell cycle progression to repair DNA damage caused by oxidative stress; if this DNA damage cannot be repaired, cells die. No significant inductions of foci were recorded after exposure to EOMs. These results indicate that, although the extracts contain compounds with proven carcinogenic potential, the levels of these pollutants in the analyzed soils were too low to induce carcinogenesis in our experimental conditions.In this proposed case study, HepG2 cells were found an appropriate tool to assess the potential harm caused by the ingestion of contaminated soil as they were able to detect differences in the toxicity of soil EOMs. Moreover, the cell transformation assay strengthened the combined approach giving useful information on carcinogenic potential of mixtures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)790-801
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2013


  • Cell transformation assay
  • Environmental toxicology
  • HepG2
  • Human risk assessment
  • Soil pollutants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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