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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2011

Phytoavailability of Heavy Metals and Metalloids in Soils Irrigated with Wastewater, Akaki, Ethiopia: A Greenhouse Study

Fitamo, Daniel; Leta, Seyoum; Belay, G; Lemma, Bekele; Olsson, Mats


Irrigation with untreated wastewater from several industrial, commercial, and domestic discharges for decades caused accumulation of various heavy metals and metalloids in soils along the Akaki River in Ethiopia. Assessment of environmental threats and the potential phytoremediation of the soils require understanding of the toxic elements' uptake and distribution in plant parts. Hence, a greenhouse study was performed to examine the phytoavailability and distribution of Cr, Ni, Co, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb, Hg, Se, V, and As in forage grasses: Oat (Avena sativa), Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana), Setaria (Setaria sphacelata), and the legumes Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and Desmodium (Desmodium unicinatum). The average contents of Cr, Ni, Co, Cu, Zn, Pb, Hg, Se, and V in the plants were generally higher than the background levels for forage grasses/legumes, and some of these elements were in the phytotoxic range. Root bioconcentration factor (BCF = root to soil concentration ratio) > 1 was observed for Cu (Oat, Rhodes, Desmodium, and Setaria: Fluvisol), Zn (Setaria: Fluvisol), Cd (Rhodes: Fluvisol; Setaria from both soils) and Hg (Oat and Alfalfa: Fluvisol). Alfalfa and Desmodium displayed translocation factor > 1 (TF = shoot to root concentration ratio) for most heavy metals. Most heavy metals/metalloids may pose a health threat to humans and stock via introduction to the food chain. The plant factors (species and plant part), soil factors (soil type, soil fractions, pH, and CEC), and their interactions significantly (p < 0.05) influenced plant heavy metal and metalloid levels. However, the role of plant part and species emerged as the most important on heavy metal uptake, translocation, sequestration, and ultimately transfer to the food chain. Accordingly, the uptake and distribution of heavy metals/metalloids in the plants reflect the potential environmental and health hazards attributable to the use of fodder grasses, legumes, and cultivation of vegetables in soils with polymetallic and metalloid contamination.


BCF; forage grass/legume; heavy metal/metalloid accumulation; phytoremediation; polymetallic; TF; vegetables

Published in

Soil and Sediment Contamination
2011, volume: 20, number: 7, pages: 745-766

Authors' information

Fitamo, Daniel
Leta, Seyoum
Belay, G
Lemma, Bekele
Olsson, Mats
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water and sanitation

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science
Environmental Sciences

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