Crop Uptake of Arsenic from Flooded Paddy Fields in the Mekong Delta

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Kathryn Mohr, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States and Kristin Boye, Stanford University, Los Altos Hills, CA, United States
Arsenic is found naturally in the soils in the Mekong delta in Vietnam and Cambodia. It originates from erosion in the Himalayas. When similar levels of arsenic are present in well aerated soil, it is not dangerous, because it is strongly bound to soil particles and not readily plant available. Arsenic is released when the soil is saturated with water, and therefore contaminates crops grown in flooded fields. This results in people being exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic from their food, such as rice and lotus, which are normally grown under flooded conditions. Rice is a staple food in these regions, so the transfer of arsenic from soil, to water, and ultimately into the grain, poses a threat to human health.

We have conducted a limited, preliminary field survey of arsenic levels in soil, flood water, and crops from distinctly different paddy fields in the lower Mekong delta in Vietnam and Cambodia. The purpose of the study was to identify soils and crops (or specific plant parts) that are especially prone to arsenic transfer from soil to crop, and vice versa (i.e. arsenic uptake is prevented in spite of being present in the soil). In addition to arsenic concentration in soil, plant and water, we are examining other elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and iron, which give us clues about what chemical and microbial processes that control the overall arsenic uptake.