Assessing Health Risks from Metals in Saffron Grown with Wastewater

Jenn Hoskins
15th March, 2024

Assessing Health Risks from Metals in Saffron Grown with Wastewater

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In India, using domestic wastewater (DW) for saffron irrigation improved soil and crop growth
  • Saffron quality met international standards with DW irrigation, similar to Sarbal Lake water
  • Heavy metals in saffron from DW were below the safe limits, posing no significant health risks
In many developing regions, farmers use domestic wastewater (DW) to irrigate crops as a resourceful way to deal with water scarcity. While this practice can improve crop growth, it raises concerns about the potential transfer of toxic heavy metals from the water to the crops, which could pose health risks to consumers. Understanding the implications of using DW for irrigation is crucial, especially for high-value crops like saffron, which is not only a culinary delicacy but also an important source of livelihood for many farmers. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Forestry[1] has shed light on the impact of using different water sources, including DW, Sarbal Lake water (SLW), and borewell water (BW), on the cultivation of saffron. This research focused on the suburban area of Pampore in the Srinagar district of Jammu and Kashmir, India, a region famed for its saffron production. The study found that irrigation with DW significantly altered the soil's physical and chemical properties and nutrient content more than SLW and BW. Remarkably, DW irrigation also resulted in better growth and higher yields of saffron compared to the other water sources. The quality of the saffron produced with DW and SLW met the standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), with BW irrigation ranking slightly lower. Despite the benefits observed in crop performance, the presence of heavy metals in the saffron plant parts was a critical aspect of the investigation. Metals such as arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), and mercury (Hg) were among those measured in the saffron samples. However, the levels detected did not exceed the safety limits established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). To assess the potential health risks associated with consuming saffron irrigated with DW, the researchers employed various analytical methods. The bioaccumulation factor (BAF) measures the accumulation of heavy metals in the plant compared to their concentration in the soil. Dietary intake modeling (DIM) and health risk assessment (HRI) provide estimates of the potential exposure to heavy metals through diet. The target hazard quotient (THQ) is a risk assessment tool that estimates the likelihood of adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure. All these measures indicated that there is no significant health hazard from consuming saffron irrigated with DW or SLW. These findings are significant because they suggest that using DW for irrigation could be a viable option for saffron cultivation, provided that the heavy metal content is continuously monitored and managed. This aligns with previous research on the bioavailability of selenium (Se) in Se-enriched rice[2], which emphasized the importance of considering the actual nutritional value and bioavailability of elements in food crops. Moreover, the study complements earlier research on the reduction of nitrate leaching in agricultural systems[3]. Intercropping and the use of organic manure were shown to enhance nutrient uptake and reduce the risk of groundwater contamination, indicating that sustainable agricultural practices can lead to improved crop health and environmental safety. The influence of soil characteristics on saffron quality was also previously explored[4], demonstrating that soil rich in organic matter, phosphorus, and potassium can lead to higher quality saffron. This supports the idea that soil amendments resulting from DW irrigation could potentially enhance saffron quality. Lastly, the study indirectly addresses concerns about chromium (Cr) pollution in soil-crop systems[5]. While Cr was one of the heavy metals found in the saffron samples, its levels remained within safe limits, suggesting that DW irrigation, under controlled conditions, might not significantly elevate the risk of Cr pollution in crops like saffron. In conclusion, the research by the University of Forestry offers valuable insights for saffron growers and policymakers. It highlights the potential of using DW as an irrigation source to improve crop yields and quality without posing significant health risks, provided that there is careful monitoring and management of heavy metal content. This study not only contributes to the body of knowledge on sustainable water use in agriculture but also reassures consumers about the safety of consuming crops irrigated with treated DW.



Main Study

1) Health risk assessment of heavy metals in saffron (Crocus sativus L.) cultivated in domestic wastewater and lake water irrigated soils.

Published 15th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Relative bioavailability of selenium in rice using a rat model and its application to human health risk assessment.

3) Nitrogen leaching and groundwater N contamination risk in saffron/wheat intercropping under different irrigation and soil fertilizers regimes.

4) Effect of Soil Composition on Secondary Metabolites of Moroccan Saffron (Crocus sativus L.).

5) Chromium Contamination and Health Risk Assessment of Soil and Agricultural Products in a Rural Area in Southern China.

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