Soil geochemistry and phytoavailable trace elements were investigated in 80 paddy soil samples and corresponding rice grains from the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. Soil parameters like Fe-, Al-, and Mn-phases, organic matter, and pH-value determine element concentrations in soil and affect their transfer into rice grains. Arsenic exceeded the allowed limit for Vietnamese agricultural soils in 11% of the samples, presumably caused by natural processes. Lead surpassed the limit in one soil sample. Other toxic elements were close to their natural concentrations and far below allowable limits for agricultural soil. There was no clear correlation of trace element concentrations in soils with those in corresponding grains, even if the different soil parameters and the large pH-range between 3.7 and 6.8 were considered. To assess health risks of critical elements in rice, the thresholds of tolerable upper intake level for total food and drinking water (UL) and of permissible maximum concentration (MC) for rice grains were evaluated. Surprisingly, rice grains grown on non- or low-polluted soils can surpass the upper limits. According to the UL concept, 12% of the grains exceeded the UL of As, 29% that of Cd, and 27% that of Pb for each gender. According to the MC concept, 5% of the rice grains exceeded the MC of inorganic As for adults and 38% that for young children. 24% of the grains surpassed the MC of Pb, while Cd in all grains was below the MC. The differing results of the UL and MC approaches show an urgent need for revision and harmonization concerning As, Cd, and Pb limits, especially regarding countries with high rice consumption.
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European Food Safety Authority
Food and Agriculture Organization
Loss on ignition
Permissible maximum concentration
Vietnam National Technical Regulation
Recommended dietary allowance
Tolerable upper intake level
World Health Organization
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The authors thank the Department Sedimentology/Environmental Geology and Geo-Gender-Chancenfonds, Faculty of Geoscience and Geography, Göttingen University, for providing chemicals and instruments for the analytical work. The Vietnamese government kindly supported the stay of Thuy Phuong Nguyen at Göttingen University with a research grant.
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Nguyen, T.P., Ruppert, H., Pasold, T. et al. Paddy soil geochemistry, uptake of trace elements by rice grains (Oryza sativa) and resulting health risks in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. Environ Geochem Health 42, 2377–2397 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-019-00456-7
- Nutrient and toxic elements
- Paddy soils
- Rice grains
- Transfer factors
- Mekong River Delta
- Health assessments