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Metal(loid)s in Cucurbita pepo in a Uranium Mining Impacted Area in Northwestern New Mexico, USA.

  • Author(s): Samuel-Nakamura, Christine;
  • Hodge, Felicia S;
  • Sokolow, Sophie;
  • Ali, Abdul-Mehdi S;
  • Robbins, Wendie A
  • et al.

More than 500 unreclaimed mines and associated waste sites exist on the Navajo Nation reservation as a result of uranium (U) mining from the 1940s through the 1980s. For this study, the impact of U-mine waste on a common, locally grown crop food was examined. The goal of this site-specific study was to determine metal(loid) concentration levels of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), cesium (Cs), molybdenum (Mo), lead (Pb), thorium (Th), U, vanadium (V) and selenium (Se) in Cucurbita pepo Linnaeus (squash), irrigation water, and soil using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. The concentrations of metal(loid)s were greatest in roots > leaves > edible fruit (p < 0.05), respectively. There were significant differences between metal(loid)s in squash crop plot usage (<5 years versus >30 years) for V (p = 0.001), As (p < 0.001), U (p = 0.002), Cs (p = 0.012), Th (p = 0.040), Mo (p = 0.047), and Cd (p = 0.042). Lead and Cd crop irrigation water concentrations exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Maximum Contaminant Levels for drinking water for those metals. Edible squash concentration levels were 0.116 mg/kg of As, 0.248 mg/kg of Pb, 0.020 mg/kg of Cd, and 0.006 mg/kg of U. Calculated human ingestion of edible squash did not exceed Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake or Tolerable Upper Limit levels from intake based solely on squash consumption. There does not appear to be a food-ingestion risk from metal(loid)s solely from consumption of squash. Safer access and emphasis on consuming regulated water was highlighted. Food intake recommendations were provided. Continued monitoring, surveillance, and further research are recommended.

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