A team of researchers including UAlbany MPH student Molly Fleming and Dr. Michael S. Bloom recently studied the exposure to chromium, lead, and manganese through soil and vegetable contamination in Tarnaveni, Romania; the resulting publication appears in the January Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. The team found that levels of chromium, lead, and manganese in the soil were higher than normal – and concentrations of these heavy metals in vegetables were higher than found in previous studies.
Although heavy metals like chromium, lead, and manganese are natural components of the Earth’s crust, extensive literature has linked high prevalence of these metals to negative health outcomes for humans. Chromium and lead exposure have been tied to health issues for newborns and manganese is neurotoxic at high levels; therefore, areas that contain higher amounts of heavy metals may pose a threat to the health of residents.
Tarnaveni, a town on the Tarnava Mica River in Romania, is home to a former chemical plant that produced a variety of chemicals. Since closing in 2007, the site has been contaminated with 2.5 million tons of chemical waste. The research team aimed to assess heavy metal exposure local residents may face due to this industrial facility’s activities, location, and remaining waste.
Soil samples were collected from 35 locations in Tarnaveni – including residential yards and gardens – and stored in metal-free containers to reduce contamination after collection. Twelve vegetable samples of lettuce, green onion, and garlic were collected from residential areas.
Overall, the team found higher concentrations of heavy metal in the soil collected in Tarnaveni than previous studies reported in other areas of Europe that face industrial contamination. 60 percent of the soil samples contained chromium that exceeded normal levels but were not high enough to trigger a regulatory alert from the Romanian Ministerial Order (RMO). Two of the samples were high enough to meet this alert, with over 100 milligrams of chromium per kilogram. However, these two samples were lower than the intervention threshold set by the RMO. One sample exceeded the intervention threshold with 525.8 milligrams of chromium per kilogram.
For lead concentrations, 38 percent of soil samples contained enough lead to meet the regulatory alert but were lower than the concentration needed for intervention for human health protection. 73 percent of the soil samples contained normal levels of manganese, while 27 percent of samples had higher concentrations that were still below the alert level.
Concentrations of manganese and lead in the vegetable samples were high in comparison to previous studies, with the amounts of the metals in the lettuce samples exceeding the concentrations in the onion and garlic samples. The samples collected farther away from the chemical plant had lower chromium and lead concentrations; however, the sample size was small and requires further study to determine how the chemical plant may impact heavy metal concentrations in soil and vegetables.
The research team plans on continuing this investigation, expanding the types of vegetables examined, the amount of soil samples, and the times of year at which samples are collected. This study was conducted during the spring, limiting the data to spring vegetables. With further study, this team can better assess how industrial contamination may impact public health in Romania.