Study: Metals from Bolivian mines contaminate crops, create human health risk

HERSHEY, Pa. — Exposure to trace metals from potatoes grown in soil irrigated with waters from the Potosi mining region in Bolivia may put residents at risk of non-cancer health illnesses, according to a team of researchers from Penn State College of Medicine, Saint Francis University and the University of Oklahoma. The world’s largest silver deposit lies in this region and potatoes are a dietary staple in the area.

Because of a lack of water for quality irrigation, farmers use contaminated waters, leading to health risks from contaminated potatoes eaten locally or shipped to outlying areas. For children, ingestion of arsenic through potatoes was 9.1 to 71.8 times higher than the minimum risk level and ingestion of cadmium was 3.0 to 31.5 times higher than the minimum risk level.

“The fact that exposure was so high through only one route of exposure is concerning,” said Robin Taylor Wilson, professor of public health sciences and lead epidemiologist on the study. “Children in this region are exposed to contaminants through routes other than potatoes. If we consider these additional routes of exposure, it is possible the potential risks could be higher, but without further research, there is no way of knowing how much higher these risks might be.”

The hazard quotient is the ratio of estimated specific exposure to a single chemical over a specified period to the estimated daily exposure level at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. Hazard quotients about 1 suggest the possibility of adverse non-cancer health risks. The minimum risk levels are established by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

This study was funded through a collaboration with Engineers in Action. The Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds at the University of Oklahoma executed the study.

A paper on this research titled, “Metal-contaminated potato crops and potential human health risk in Bolivian mining highlands,” has been published in the scientific journal Environmental Geochemistry and Health.

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Last Updated January 03, 2018