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Natural attenuation, plant uptake and human health impact

The Soil and Water Quality group at IMDEA Water has just published the article “Pharmaceutical and transformation products during unplanned water reuse: insights into natural attenuation, plant uptake and human health impact under field conditions” in the Open Access Environment International journal (Meffe et al 2021).

In urban and peri-urban areas, agricultural soils are often irrigated with surface water containing a complex mixture of contaminants as a consequence of the discharge of effluents from wastewater treatment plants. The unplanned water reuse of these water resources for crop irrigation can represent a pathway for the propagation of such contaminants and, at the same time, a potential health risk due to their introduction into the food chain. This study provides data about the magnitude of the attenuation processes and plant uptake in an agricultural parcel irrigated by a gravity-fed surface system supplied by the Jarama river.The research shows that unplanned water reuse for agricultural practices should be carefully evaluated as a route of exposure to pharmaceuticals and transformation products. All investigated compounds are detected in irrigation water. Natural attenuation processes occurring in the soil are very effective to decrease concentrations of most compounds, regardless of the initial pharmaceutical concentrations, being likely compound-specific. Thanks to effective natural attenuation, only 13.5% of the pharmaceutical mass applied through irrigation is estimated to leach. Promisingly, maize has limited potential uptake of pharmaceuticals and would not pose any threat to human health.

This research has been developed within the FatePharM project "Irrigation of crops with surface water contaminated with pharmaceuticals and trace metals: natural attenuation or health risk?" (2018-2020), funded by the State Program of R&D&i Challenges of Society of the Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Competitiveness (Ref. CTM2017-89995-R). FatePharM is coordinated by Raffaella Meffe and Ana de Santiago Martín.