Soil pollution and toxicity in an area affected by emissions from a bauxite processing plant and a power plant in Gardanne (southern France)

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2019 Apr 15:170:55-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2018.11.122. Epub 2018 Dec 4.


Soil pollution and toxicity have been investigated in the Gardanne area (southern France) at a range of sites around a recognized pollution source, a bauxite processing plant (BPP), and a power plant (PP). Soil samples were submitted to inorganic and organic analyses and tested for toxicity in two invertebrate models. Inorganic analysis was based on determining elemental concentrations by ICP-MS, encompassing a total of 26 elements including 13 rare earth elements (REEs), of the soil samples and their leachates after 24 or 48 h in seawater. Organic analyses were performed by measuring the sums of 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and of total hydrocarbons (C-10 to C-40). Bioassays were carried out on the early life stages of three sea urchin species (Arbacia lixula, Paracentrotus lividus and Sphaerechinus granularis), and on a nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans). Sea urchin bioassays were evaluated by the effects of soil samples (0.1-0.5% dry wt/vol) on developing embryos and on sperm, and scored as: a) % developmental defects, b) inhibition of sperm fertilization success and offspring damage, and c) frequencies of mitotic aberrations. C. elegans 24 h-mortality assay showed significant toxicity associated with soil samples. The effects of soil samples showed heightened toxicity at two groups of sites, close to the BPP main entrance and around the PP, which was consistent with the highest concentrations found for metals and PAHs, respectively. Total hydrocarbon concentrations displayed high concentrations both close to BPP main entrance and to the PP. Further studies of the health effects of such materials in Gardanne are warranted.

Keywords: Bauxite processing; C. elegans; Power plant; Sea urchins; Soil pollution; Soil toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum Oxide / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Biological Assay
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development
  • Embryonic Development / drug effects
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects*
  • France
  • Male
  • Metals, Rare Earth / analysis
  • Power Plants
  • Sea Urchins / drug effects
  • Sea Urchins / growth & development
  • Seawater / analysis
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects


  • Metals, Rare Earth
  • Soil
  • Aluminum Oxide