JOURNAL ARTICLE

Heavy metal contamination of soil and vegetables in suburban areas of Varanasi, India

Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Madhoolika Agrawal, Fiona Marshall
Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 2007, 66 (2): 258-66
16466660
Heavy metal contamination of soil resulting from wastewater irrigation is a cause of serious concern due to the potential health impacts of consuming contaminated produce. In this study an assessment is made of the impact of wastewater irrigation on heavy metal contamination of Beta vulgaris (palak); this is a highly nutritious leafy vegetable that is widely cultivated and consumed in urban India, particularly by the poor. A field study was conducted at three major sites that were irrigated by either treated or untreated wastewater in the suburban areas of Varanasi, India according to normal practice. Samples of irrigation water, soil, and the edible portion of the palak (Beta vulgaris L. var All green H1) were collected monthly during the summer and winter seasons and were analyzed for Cd, Cu, Zn, Pb, Cr, Mn, and Ni. Heavy metals in irrigation water were below the internationally recommended (WHO) maximum permissible limits set for agricultural use for all heavy metals except Cd at all the sites. Similarly, the mean heavy metal concentrations in soil were below the Indian standards for all heavy metals, but the maximum value of Cd recorded during January was higher than the standard. However, in the edible portion of B. vulgaris, the Cd concentration was higher than the permissible limits of the Indian standard during summer, whereas Pb and Ni concentrations were higher in both summer and winter seasons. Results of linear regression analysis computed to assess the relationship between individual heavy metal concentration in the vegetable samples and in soil showed that Zn in soil had a positive significant relationship with vegetable contamination during winter. Concentrations of Cd, Cu, and Mn in soil and plant showed significant positive relationships only during summer. Concentration of Cr and Pb during winter season and Zn and Ni during summer season showed significant negative relationships between soil and plant contamination. The study concludes that the use of treated and untreated wastewater for irrigation has increased the contamination of Cd, Pb, and Ni in edible portion of vegetables causing potential health risk in the long term from this practice. The study also points to the fact that adherence to standards for heavy metal contamination of soil and irrigation water does not ensure safe food.

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