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Wastewater Produces Agricultural Risks, WHO Says

lettuceA new study found that wastewater used to irrigate vegetable plots in Asian countries poses health risks, particularly for children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that wastewater may exceed its guidelines and contain elevated levels of viruses, bacteria and protozoa that can contaminate food and cause disease.

Wastewater used to irrigate agricultural crops in countries where water is scarce may contribute to significant public health risks such as diarrheal disease in children from rotavirus.

Asia accounts for the majority of the world’s reuse of wastewater in irrigation, and with China as the world’s most populous country, millions of people may be exposed to health risks from contamination. However, normal cooking temperatures and food preservation strategies can reduce the risks posed by microorganisms and viruses.

Health studies can trace the incidence of disease in a population, conducting extensive experimental work and collecting sufficient data can be cost-prohibitive. Researchers instead created a statistical model to characterize the health risks posed by wastewater used to grow Asian vegetables.

The probability of rotavirus infection is affected by uncertainty in virus concentration and variation in vegetable consumption. For example, the mean daily per capita lettuce consumption in Australia is 21.81 grams lettuce/person day, compared to a mean of 171.94 grams lettuce / person day in China, although there is seasonal variation in consumption patterns.

Photo: photofarmer Flickr photostream

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