A critical analysis of wastewater use in agriculture and associated health risks in Pakistan

Abstract

Freshwater shortage and its contamination with various types of pollutants are becoming the most alarming issues worldwide due to impacts on socioeconomic values. Considering an increasing freshwater scarcity, it is imperative for the growers, particularly in semiarid and arid areas, to use wastewater for crop production. Wastewaters generally contain numerous essential inorganic and organic nutrients which are considered necessary for plant metabolism. Besides, this practice provokes various hygienic, ecological and health concerns due to the occurrence of toxic substances such as heavy metals. Pakistan nowadays faces a severe freshwater scarcity. Consequently, untreated wastewater is used routinely in the agriculture sector. In this review, we have highlighted the negative and positive affectivity of wastewater on the chemical characteristics of the soil. This review critically delineates toxic metal accumulation in soil and their possible soil–plant–human transfer. We have also estimated and deliberated possible health hazards linked with the utilization of untreated city waste effluents for the cultivation of food/vegetable crops. Moreover, we carried out a multivariate analysis of data (144 studies of wastewater crop irrigation in Pakistan) to trace out common trends in published data. We have also compared the limit values of toxic metals in irrigation water, soil and plants. Furthermore, some viable solutions and future viewpoints are anticipated taking into account the on-ground situation in Pakistan—such as planning and sanitary matters, remedial/management technologies, awareness among local habitants (especially farmers) and the role of the government, NGOs and pertinent stakeholders. The data are supported by 13 tables and 7 figures.

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Acknowledgements

Dr Muhammad Shahid acknowledges the financial support from the HEC, Islamabad, Pakistan, for sponsorship (20-4423/R&D/HEC/14/980).

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Natasha, Shahid, M., Khalid, S. et al. A critical analysis of wastewater use in agriculture and associated health risks in Pakistan. Environ Geochem Health (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-020-00702-3

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Keywords

  • Wastewaters
  • Pakistan
  • Heavy metal
  • Soil pollution
  • Vegetable contamination
  • Health risks