Call edition 2012

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Elevated cadmium concentrations in potato tubers due to irrigation with river water contaminated by mining in Potosí, Bolivia

Carla OPORTO researcher laureate

°1970 Bolivia
Master of Environmental Sciences, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 2000

Elevated cadmium concentrations in potato tubers due to irrigation with river water contaminated by mining in Potosí, Bolivia

This paper focuses on a real problem in a mining area in Bolivia where farming land has been irrigated with contaminated water since approximately 1920. It informs on the exposure of farmers working in this mining area, and in similar areas in other countries, to contamination with heavy metals contained in the ground and in the irrigation water. It provides information especially on the different concentrations of metals in farming soil and in the farming products harvested on these contaminated sites. The study analyses different factors that contribute to the bio-availability of heavy metals that can be absorbed by plants. The latter constitute a risk in the human and animal food-chain. The study reveals that the levels of heavy metals (here cadmium: Cd) contained in farming products (in this case potatoes) are very high compared with the levels observed in other countries (Australia, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Belgium, etc.). On the basis of these results, the populations living in proximity of these Bolivian mining areas, and others, can be made aware of the dangers of direct and indirect toxicity of heavy metals. This will reduce the loss of human and animal lives in the mining areas where soils are often contaminated. The results show that it is imperative that farming products harvested from the land contaminated with heavy metals are analyzed, this in accordance with European and international standards for heavy metal levels that are highly toxic to humans and animals.
The technical scientific value of this paper and its impact in the sphere of environmental conservation in relation to contamination from heavy metals are clear. The fact that the concentrations of heavy metals (in this case Cadmium: Cd) observed on the experimental site exceed the standards recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) should make the local people aware of the potential dangers (direct and indirect toxicity) of heavy metals in the food-chain. Similar studies may enable the competent authorities to draw up maps of contaminated farming land, in order to allow the local farming population to work in a sustainable way. These measures will enable the local population to avoid certain illnesses such as itai itai, which is caused by very high cadmium levels.
This paper is of high scientific value. The experimental protocols, the way the experiments have been carried out, the data collection, the chemical and paedological analyses, the analyses of plants, soil and soil solutions, and irrigation water, etc. as well as the way the statistical data is treated are all in strict accordance with international scientific standards. The study is also being continued within the framework of a doctoral thesis at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. The results are very useful to the scientific world and in particular to environmental conservation and human and animal health. The results will be able to be used both in the mining areas in the South (South Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, etc.) and in the North.

report: Dr L. Longanza Baboy, Laboratory of Systematic Botany and Phytosociology, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences, Université de Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo