Heavy metals, such as iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), cop per (Cu) and zinc (Zn) are found everywhere in our environment. They become part of our food chain as coenzymes and oversupply of these metals can have toxic effects. Some metals, such as lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) are toxic even at low levels. (Vegetables can be a source of all of these metals, especially when grown in contaminated soil.)
Romanian mining has been a source of minerals in Europe for one hundred years, and the soil has been widely contaminated. This study was conducted to test whether vegetables should be grown for humans in these soils. Fe, Mn Zn, Cu, Ni, Cd and Pb were tested in parsley, carrots, onions, lettuce, cucumbers and green beans. This information was used to calculate the THQ (total hazard quotient) or the concern of pollution from eating a vegetable grown in that area.
Fe, Mn and Zn were the highest contaminants found. There was variation in the amounts of metals found in different areas depending on natural occurrence and industrial activity. Different vegetables contained different levels of metals in the same areas. The most abundant element in parsley, carrot roots and onions was Fe in both contaminated and non-contaminated areas. Zn and Mn were higher in the same vegetables grown in contaminated areas, as well. The highest levels of Cu were in parsley roots, and Cu levels were higher in parsley roots and carrot roots than in onion. Parsley roots contained the highest levels of nickel (Ni).
Cd and Pb are the most toxic metals found. Pb was found in vegetables even in non-contaminated areas, and Cd was found only in contaminated areas, where it transfers rapidly from soil to plants. Also, Pb was found in leafy green vegetables, especially in parsley leaves, cabbage, carrot leaves and lettuce. Leafy green vegetables are known to be “heavy metal accumulators”, and high levels of lead were found in green beans. Overall, many toxic vegetable levels exceeded the upper tolerable limit (UL).
CONCLUSION: The worst contaminant was lead in parsley, carrot roots, green leafy cabbage and lettuce from one certain area of Romania. Vegetables, especially parsley, carrot, cabbage, lettuce and green beans, grown in contaminated soils in industrial areas present health concerns from chronic consumption.
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