Accumulation and health risk of heavy metals in vegetables from harmless and organic vegetable production systems of China

Yong Chen, Wenyou Hu, Biao Huang, David C. Weindorf, Nithya Rajan, Xiaoxiao Liu, Silvana Niedermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Heavy metal accumulation in vegetables is a growing concern for public health. Limited studies have elucidated the heavy metal accumulation characteristics and health risk of different vegetables produced in different facilities such as greenhouses and open-air fields and under different management modes such as harmless and organic. Given the concern over the aforementioned factors related to heavy metal accumulation, this study selected four typical greenhouse vegetable production bases, short-term harmless greenhouse vegetable base (SHGVB), middle-term harmless greenhouse vegetable base (MHGVB), long-term harmless greenhouse vegetable base (LHGVB), and organic greenhouse vegetable base (OGVB), in Nanjing City, China to study heavy metal accumulation in different vegetables and their associated health risks. Results showed that soils and vegetables from SHGVB and OGVB apparently accumulated fewer certain heavy metals than those from other bases, probably due to fewer planting years and special management, respectively. Greenhouse conditions significantly increased certain soil heavy metal concentrations relative to open-air conditions. However, greenhouse conditions did not significantly increase concentrations of As, Cd, Cu, Hg, and Zn in leaf vegetables. In fact, under greenhouse conditions, Pb accumulation was effectively reduced. The main source of soil heavy metals was the application of large amounts of low-grade fertilizer. There was larger health risk for producers' children to consume vegetables from the three harmless vegetable bases than those of residents' children. The hazard index (HI) over a large area exceeded 1 for these two kinds of children in the MHGVB and LHGVB. There was also a slight risk in the SHGVB for producers' children solely. However, the HI of the whole area of the OGVB for two kinds of children was below 1, suggesting low risk of heavy metal exposure through the food chain. Notably, the contribution rate of Cu and Zn to the HI were high in the four bases, yet current Chinese standards provide no limit for the concentrations of Cu and Zn; thus a potential health risk concerning these metals exists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-330
Number of pages7
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013


  • Greenhouse vegetables
  • Heavy metal source
  • Management and planting years
  • Soils
  • Spatial variability


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