Concentrations of Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, Arsenic and Aluminum in Irrigation Water Wells and Wastewaters Used for Agriculture in Mashhad, Northeastern Iran

SR Mousavi, M Balali-Mood, B Riahi-Zanjani, H Yousefzadeh, M Sadeghi


Background: Contamination of water by toxic chemicals has become commonly recognized as an environmental concern. Based on our clinical observation in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, many people might be at risk of exposure to high concentrations of toxic heavy metals in water. Because wastewater effluents as well as water wells have been commonly used for irrigation over the past decades, there has been some concern on the toxic metal exposure of crops and vegetables irrigated with the contaminated water.

Objective: To measure the concentrations of mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic and aluminium in irrigation water wells and wastewaters used for agriculture in Mashhad, northeastern Iran.

Methods: 36 samples were taken from irrigation water wells and a wastewater refinery in North of Mashhad at four times—May 2008, March 2009, and June and July 2010. Atomic absorption spectrometry was used to measure the concentration of toxic metals. Graphite furnace was used for the measurement of lead, chromium, cadmium and aluminum. Mercury and arsenic concentrations were measured by mercury/hydride system.

Results: Chromium, cadmium, lead and arsenic concentrations in the samples were within the standard range. The mean±SD concentration of mercury in irrigation wells (1.02±0.40 μg/L) exceeded the FAO maximum permissible levels. The aluminum concentration in irrigation water varied significantly from month to month (p=0.03). All wastewater samples contained high mercury concentrations (6.64±2.53 μg/L).

Conclusion: For high mercury and aluminum concentrations, the water sources studied should not be used for agricultural use. Regular monitoring of the level of heavy metals in water and employing the necessary environmental interventions in this area are strongly recommended.


Food contamination; Agriculture; Sewage; Spectrophotometry, atomic; Metals, heavy; Water pollution, chemical; Water wells; Waste water; Iran

 pISSN: 2008-6520
 eISSN: 2008-6814

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