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Keywords:

  • Agriculture;
  • China;
  • irrigation;
  • public health;
  • wastewater

Many farmers in water-scarce regions of developing countries use wastewater to irrigate vegetables and other agricultural crops, a practice that may expand with climate change. There are a number of health risks associated with wastewater irrigation for human food crops, particularly with surface irrigation techniques common in the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) to determine if the irrigation scheme meets health standards. However, only a few vegetables have been studied for wastewater risk and little information is known about the disease burden of wastewater-irrigated vegetable consumption in China. To bridge this knowledge gap, an experiment was conducted to determine volume of water left on Asian vegetables and lettuce after irrigation. One hundred samples each of Chinese chard (Brassica rapa var. chinensis), Chinese broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra), Chinese flowering cabbage (Brassica rapa var. parachinensis), and lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were harvested after overhead sprinkler irrigation. Chinese broccoli and flowering cabbage were found to capture the most water and lettuce the least. QMRAs were then constructed to estimate rotavirus disease burden from consumption of wastewater-irrigated Asian vegetables in Beijing. Results indicate that estimated risks from these reuse scenarios exceed WHO guideline thresholds for acceptable disease burden for wastewater use, signifying that reduction of pathogen concentration or stricter risk management is necessary for safe reuse. Considering the widespread practice of wastewater irrigation for food production, particularly in developing countries, incorporation of water retention factors in QMRAs can reduce uncertainty regarding health risks for consumers worldwide.