Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 22, Issue 23, pp 18456–18468 | Cite as

Heavy metal accumulation in soils, plants, and hair samples: an assessment of heavy metal exposure risks from the consumption of vegetables grown on soils previously irrigated with wastewater

  • Lamin Daddy Massaquoi
  • Hui Ma
  • Xue Hui Liu
  • Peng Yu Han
  • Shu-Mei Zuo
  • Zhong-Xian Hua
  • Dian-Wu Liu
Research Article


It is common knowledge that soils irrigated with wastewater accumulate heavy metals more than those irrigated with cleaner water sources. However, little is known on metal concentrations in soils and cultivars after the cessation of wastewater use. This study assessed the accumulation and health risk of heavy metals 3 years post-wastewater irrigation in soils, vegetables, and farmers’ hair. Soils, vegetables, and hair samples were collected from villages previously irrigating with wastewater (experimental villages) and villages with no history of wastewater irrigation (control villages). Soil samples were digested in a mixture of HCL/HNO3/HCLO4/HF. Plants and hair samples were digested in HNO3/HCLO4 mixture. Inductive coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES) was used to determine metal concentrations of digested extracts. Study results indicate a persistence of heavy metal concentration in soils and plants from farms previously irrigated with wastewater. In addition, soils previously irrigated with wastewater were severely contaminated with cadmium. Hair metal concentrations of farmers previously irrigating with wastewater were significantly higher (P < 0.05) than farmers irrigating with clean water, but metal concentrations in hair samples of farmers previously irrigating with wastewater were not associated with current soil metal concentrations. The study concludes that there is a persistence of heavy metals in soils and plants previously irrigated with wastewater, but high metal concentrations in hair samples of farmers cannot be associated with current soil metal concentrations.


Heavy metals Risk assessment Daily metal intake Wastewater Agriculture Health hazard Bio-concentration Geo-accumulation 


  1. Alert ECDEN (2013) Science for Environmental Policy. Eur Comm DG Environ News AlertGoogle Scholar
  2. Al-Masri MS, Al-Akel B, Nashawani A, Amin Y, Khalifa KH, Al-Ain F (2008) Transfer of (40)K, (238)U, (210)Pb, and (210)Po from soil to plant in various locations in south of Syria. J Environ Radioact 99(2):322–331. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2007.08.021 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Al-Othman ZA, Ali R, Al-Othman AM, Ali J, Habila MA (2012) Assessment of toxic metals in wheat crops grown on selected soils, irrigated by different water sources. Arab J Chem. doi: 10.1016/j.arabjc.2012.04.006 Google Scholar
  4. Amin N-U, Hussain A, Alamzeb S, Begum S (2013) Accumulation of heavy metals in edible parts of vegetables irrigated with waste water and their daily intake to adults and children, District Mardan, Pakistan. Food Chem 136(3–4):1515–1523. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.09.058 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Angulo E (1996) The Tomlinson Pollution Load Index applied to heavy metal, ‘Mussel-Watch’ data: a useful index to assess coastal pollution. Sci Total Environ 187(1):19–56. doi: 10.1016/0048-9697(96)05128-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Appenroth K-J (2010) Definition of “heavy metals” and their role in biological systems soil heavy metals, vol 19. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp 19–29Google Scholar
  7. Arora M, Kiran B, Rani S, Rani A, Kaur B, Mittal N (2008) Heavy metal accumulation in vegetables irrigated with water from different sources. Food Chem 111(4):811–815. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.04.049 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carpenter DO (2001) Effects of metals on the nervous system of humans and animals. Int J Occup Med Environ Health 14(3):209–218Google Scholar
  9. CEPA: Elemental background values of Soils in China (1990) Chinese Environmental Protection Administration. Beijing, China.Google Scholar
  10. Cui Y, Zhu Y, Zhai R, Chen D, Huang Y, Qui Y, Liang J (2004) Transfer of metals from soil to vegetables in an area near a smelter in Nanning, China. Environ Int 30:785–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. DiPietro ES, Phillips DL, Paschal DC, Neese JW (1989) Determination of trace elements in human hair. Reference intervals for 28 elements in nonoccupationally exposed adults in the US and effects of hair treatments. Biol Trace Elem Res 22(1):83–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dongarra G, Varrica D, Tamburo E, D’Andrea D (2012) Trace elements in scalp hair of children living in differing environmental contexts in Sicily (Italy). Environ Toxicol Pharmacol 34(2):160–169. doi: 10.1016/j.etap.2012.03.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Drechsel P, Scott CA, Raschid Sally L, Redwood M, Bahri A (2010) Wastewater irrigation and health: assessing and mitigating risk in low-income countries: International Water Management InstituteGoogle Scholar
  14. Duruibe JO, Ogwuegbu MOC, Egwurugwu JN (2007) Heavy metal pollution and human biotoxic effects. Int J Phys Sci 2(5):112–118Google Scholar
  15. FAO/WHO (Codex Alimentarius Commission) ( 2001) Food additives and contaminants. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program; ALINORM 01/12A:1-289Google Scholar
  16. Ghazali AR, Abdul Razak NE, Othman MS, Othman H, Ishak I, Lubis SH, . . . Abdullah R (2012) Study of heavy metal levels among farmers of Muda Agricultural Development Authority, Malaysia. J Environ Public Health, 2012, 758349. doi: 10.1155/2012/758349Google Scholar
  17. Gordus A (1973) Factors affecting the trace-metal content of human hair. J Radioanal Chem 15(1):229–243. doi: 10.1007/BF02516574 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hooda PS, McNulty D, Alloway BJ, Aitken MN (1997) Plant availability of heavy metals in soils previously amended with heavy applications of sewage sludge. J Sci Food Agric 73(4):446–454. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0010(199704)73:4<446::AID-JSFA749>3.0.CO;2-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Khan S, Cao Q, Zheng YM, Huang YZ, Zhu YG (2008) Health risks of heavy metals in contaminated soils and food crops irrigated with wastewater in Beijing, China. Environ Pollut 152(3):686–692. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2007.06.056 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Li Z, Ma Z, van der Kuijp TJ, Yuan Z, Huang L (2014) A review of soil heavy metal pollution from mines in China: pollution and health risk assessment. Sci Total Environ 468–469:843–853. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.08.090 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mahmood A, Malik RN (2014) Human health risk assessment of heavy metals via consumption of contaminated vegetables collected from different irrigation sources in Lahore, Pakistan. Arab J Chem 7(1):91–99. doi: 10.1016/j.arabjc.2013.07.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mapanda F, Mangwayana EN, Nyamangara J, Giller KE (2005) The effect of long-term irrigation using wastewater on heavy metal contents of soils under vegetables in Harare, Zimbabwe. Agric Ecosyst Environ 107(2–3):151–165. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2004.11.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Massaquoi LD, Li M, Wang J, Ma J, Yuan M, Liu D-W (2014) Mortality analysis on wastewater exposure in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China, from 2007 to 2011. Int J Environ Health Res 1–14. doi: 10.1080/09603123.2014.915022
  24. Muchuweti M, Birkett JW, Chinyanga E, Zvauya R, Scrimshaw MD, Lester JN (2006) Heavy metal content of vegetables irrigated with mixtures of wastewater and sewage sludge in Zimbabwe: implications for human health. Agric Ecosyst Environ 112(1):41–48. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2005.04.028 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mudgal V, Madaan N, Mudgal A, Singh RB, Mishra S (2010) Effect of toxic metals on human health. Open Nutraceuticals J 3:94–99Google Scholar
  26. Muller G (1969) Index of geo-accumulation in sediments of the Rhine river. Geojournal 2:108–118Google Scholar
  27. Organization WH (2010) Preventing diseases through healthy environments. World Health Organization: Public health and the environmentGoogle Scholar
  28. PRC MOEP (2011) 2011 Report on the State of the Environment in China. ChinaGoogle Scholar
  29. Rattan RK, Datta SP, Chhonkar PK, Suribabu K, Singh AK (2005) Long-term impact of irrigation with sewage effluents on heavy metal content in soils, crops and groundwater—a case study. Agric Ecosyst Environ 109(3–4):310–322. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2005.02.025 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Saravanan VS, Mollinga PP, Bogardi JJ (2011) Global change, wastewater and health in fast growing economies. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 3(6):461–466. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2011.10.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Singh A, Sharma RK, Agrawal M, Marshall FM (2010) Health risk assessment of heavy metals via dietary intake of foodstuffs from the wastewater irrigated site of a dry tropical area of India. Food Chem Toxicol 48(2):611–619. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2009.11.041 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Singh R, Gautam N, Mishra A, Gupta R (2011) Heavy metals and living systems: an overview. Indian J Pharmacol 43(3):246–253. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.81505 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. US-EPA I (2013) United States Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Risk Information System.
  34. Wang Y, Qiao M, Liu Y, Zhu Y (2012) Health risk assessment of heavy metals in soils and vegetables from wastewater irrigated area, Beijing-Tianjin city cluster, China. J Environ Sci (China) 24(4):690–698CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wei B, Yang L (2010) A review of heavy metal contaminations in urban soils, urban road dusts and agricultural soils from China. Microchem J 94(2):99–107. doi: 10.1016/j.microc.2009.09.014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. WHO/FAO (2011) Joint FAO/WHO food standards programme codex committee on contaminants in foods. Codex Alimentarius Commission, 5Google Scholar
  37. Xue ZJ, Liu SQ, Liu YL, Yan YL (2012) Health risk assessment of heavy metals for edible parts of vegetables grown in sewage-irrigated soils in suburbs of Baoding City, China. Environ Monit Assess 184(6):3503–3513. doi: 10.1007/s10661-011-2204-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Yao CX, Yin XB, Song J, Li ZB, Qian W, Zhao QG, Luo YM (2008) Characteristics of six elements contents in human hairs in the vicinity of metal smelting factories. Huan Jing Ke Xue 29(5):1376–1379Google Scholar
  39. Zheng J, Luo XJ, Yuan JG, He LY, Zhou YH, Luo Y, Yang ZY (2011) Heavy metals in hair of residents in an e-waste recycling area, south China: contents and assessment of bodily state. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 61(4):696–703. doi: 10.1007/s00244-011-9650-6

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lamin Daddy Massaquoi
    • 1
  • Hui Ma
    • 2
  • Xue Hui Liu
    • 1
  • Peng Yu Han
    • 1
  • Shu-Mei Zuo
    • 2
  • Zhong-Xian Hua
    • 2
  • Dian-Wu Liu
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Public HealthHebei Medical UniversityShijiazhuangChina
  2. 2.Shijiazhuang Center for Disease Control and PreventionShijiazhuangChina

Personalised recommendations