Long-term wastewater irrigation of vegetables in real agricultural systems: Concentration of pharmaceuticals in soil, uptake and bioaccumulation in tomato fruits and human health risk assessment
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Wastewater (WW) reuse for vegetable crops irrigation is regularly applied worldwide. Such a practice has been found to allow the uptake of pharmaceutical active compounds (PhACs) by plants and their subsequent entrance to the food web, representing an important alternative pathway for the exposure of humans to PhACs, with potential health implications. Herein we report the impacts of the long-term (three consecutive years) WW irrigation of a tomato crop with two differently treated effluents under real agricultural conditions, on (1) the soil concentration of selected PhACs (i.e. diclofenac, DCFsulfamethoxazole, SMXtrimethoprim, TMP), (2) the bioaccumulation of these PhACs in tomato fruits, and (3) the human risks associated with the consumption of WW-irrigated fruits. Results revealed that the concentration of the studied PhACs in both the soil and tomato fruits varied depending on the qualitative characteristics of the treated effluent applied and the duration of WW irrigation. The PhAC with the highest soil concentration throughout the studied period was SMX (0.98 µg kg-1), followed by TMP (0.62 µg kg-1) and DCF (0.35 µg kg-1). DCF was not found in tomato fruits harvested from WW-irrigated plants during the first year of the study. However, DCF displayed the highest fruit concentration (11.63 µg kg-1) throughout the study (as a result of prolonged WW irrigation), followed by SMX (5.26 µg kg-1) and TMP (3.40 µg kg-1). The calculated fruit bioconcentration factors (BCFF) were extremely high for DCF in the 2nd (108) and 3rd year (132) of the experimental period, with the respective values for SMX (0.5–5.4) and TMP (0.2–6.4) being significantly lower. The estimated threshold of toxicity concern (TTC) and hazard quotients (HQ) values revealed that the consumption of fruits harvested from tomato plants irrigated for long period with the WW applied for irrigation under field conditions in this study represent a de minimis risk to human health. However, more studies need to be performed in order to obtain more solid information on the safety of WW reuse for irrigation.•The bioaccumulation of PhACs in tomato fruits due to WW irrigation was evaluated.•Prolonged WW irrigation resulted in the bioaccumulation of diclofenac in fruits.•PhACs found in soil and fruits varied depending on the duration of WW irrigation.•The concentration of PhACs in soil and fruits was affected by the origin of used WW.•The consumption of sampled fruits poses a de minimis risk to human health.