I recently blogged about how wildfire smoke contaminants can be absorbed by wine grapes.  What about environmental pollutants in our air, water and soil?  Can they also get into the food crops that we eat?  What can be done about it?  Researchers are using Agilent technologies to find out.

The Italian island of Sicily is noted for its fertile soil (thanks to volcanic eruptions).  In rather pointed commentary, Italian researchers note that “its territory was offended, disfigured, devastated and poisoned by entrepreneurs and/or industrialists.”

The researchers used an Agilent ICP-MS to analyze Sicilian crops for toxic and carcinogenic organic compounds, including arsenicmercurynickelleadcadmiumchromiumantimonyvanadiumhydrocarbons, benzene and toluene.

The researchers found “a serious risk of toxic minerals,” including high levels of cadmiumlead and arsenic in both artichokes and tomatoes.  They attribute the source to irrigation groundwater severely contaminated by heavy metals, as well as combustion fumes from a nearby petrochemical complex.

One solution is to cultivate crops that absorb fewer toxins from polluted soil.  Using an Agilent liquid chromatograph, Chinese researchers were able to identify three types of lettuce that had low accumulation of perfluorooctanoic acid.  (PFOA is a highly toxic and persistent organic pollutant.)  “The identification of low-PFOA cultivars could contribute to ensuring food safety despite cultivation in highly polluted soils,” the researchers write.

Another solution is phytoremediation.  This technique uses living green plants for the removal, degradation or containment of contaminates in soils and groundwater.

America’s Mississippi River is one of world’s most fertile agricultural regions and serves as a watershed for 31 states.  U.S researchers studied the phytoremediation properties of rice in the Mississippi River Valley.  They found that rice can significantly reduce the amount of diazinoncis-permethrinand orthophosphate in the soil.

They used an Agilent gas chromatographautoinjectorscolumns and ChemStation software for their analysis.

One advantage of rice is that it is also a food crop.  “If further studies reveal contaminants are not transferred into seeds,” the researchers write, “then rice could potentially serve as both a remediation tool and food source in countries facing agricultural pollution challenges.”

For more information go to: