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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Managing microbial risks in informal wastewater-irrigated agriculture through irrigation water substitution

Perez-Mercado, Luis Fernando; Lalander, Cecilia; Joel, Abraham; Ottoson, Jakob; Iriarte, Mercedes; Vinneras, Bjorn


On-farm measures can be used in multi-barrier schemes to manage microbial risks from consumption of wastewater-irrigated vegetables, especially where informality of the practice determines minimal external support for farmers. Evidence indicates that cessation of irrigation greatly reduces microbial contamination on leafy vegetables, but at the expense of produce quality. Replacing wastewater with higher-quality irrigation water during the last days of cultivation is an alternative to cessation of irrigation that does not compromise produce quality. This study evaluated the effect of wastewater substitution under on-farm conditions on different indicators of microbial contamination of lettuce. Lettuce was cultivated in experimental plots and irrigated with three water sources: spring water, water from a wastewater-polluted river and effluent from a primary wastewater treatment plant, but with the river water replaced by spring water in half the plots about two weeks before harvest. The experiment was repeated four times in different seasons. Irrigation water samples collected during cultivation and lettuce samples collected at harvest were analysed for helminth eggs, Escherichia coli and coliphages. Variables characterizing the irrigation practices and environmental conditions were recorded. There were no significant differences in helminth egg or E. coli concentrations on lettuce (medians ranged from -0.7 to -0.1 log(10) eggs g(-1) and 0.6-1.4 log(10) cfu g(-1), respectively) between any of the treatments involving wastewater irrigation; no statistical analysis was possible for coliphages because concentrations on lettuce were mostly at or below the detection limit (94% of samples). Variables associated with temperature and soil explained helminth egg and E. coli concentrations on lettuce, while number of days of irrigation with spring water (representing wastewater substitution) was significant only for E. coli. It was concluded that the experimental conditions were suboptimal for successful implementation of wastewater substitution for on-farm microbial risk management, but key variables for successful implementation were identified.


Pathogens; Nutrient recycling; Farm-based measures; Irrigation scheduling; Health; Ecotechnology

Published in

Agricultural Water Management
2022, Volume: 269, article number: 107733
Publisher: ELSEVIER