UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Heavy Metal Contamination in Agricultural Soil : Environmental Pollutants Affecting Crop Health Rashid, Abdur; Schutte, Brian J.; Ulery, April; Deyholos, Michael; Sanogo, Soum; Lehnhoff, Erik A.; Beck, Leslie


Heavy metals and metalloids (HMs) are environmental pollutants, most notably cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury, and chromium. When HMs accumulate to toxic levels in agricultural soils, these non-biodegradable elements adversely affect crop health and productivity. The toxicity of HMs on crops depends upon factors including crop type, growth condition, and developmental stage; nature of toxicity of the specific elements involved; soil physical and chemical properties; occurrence and bioavailability of HM ions in the soil solution; and soil rhizosphere chemistry. HMs can disrupt the normal structure and function of cellular components and impede various metabolic and developmental processes. This review evaluates: (1) HM contamination in arable lands through agricultural practices, particularly due to chemical fertilizers, pesticides, livestock manures and compost, sewage-sludge-based biosolids, and irrigation; (2) factors affecting the bioavailability of HM elements in the soil solution, and their absorption, translocation, and bioaccumulation in crop plants; (3) mechanisms by which HM elements directly interfere with the physiological, biochemical, and molecular processes in plants, with particular emphasis on the generation of oxidative stress, the inhibition of photosynthetic phosphorylation, enzyme/protein inactivation, genetic modifications, and hormonal deregulation, and indirectly through the inhibition of soil microbial growth, proliferation, and diversity; and (4) visual symptoms of highly toxic non-essential HM elements in plants, with an emphasis on crop plants. Finally, suggestions and recommendations are made to minimize crop losses from suspected HM contamination in agricultural soils.

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