Heavy metal contamination of vegetables cultivated in home gardens in the Eastern Cape

  • Callistus Bvenura Phytomedicine Research Centre, University of Fort Hare, Alice
  • Anthony J. Afolayan Phytomedicine Research Centre, University of Fort Hare, Alice
Keywords: heavy metal, contamination, vegetables, soil


The accumulation of some essential (copper, manganese and zinc) and toxic metals (lead and cadmium) in cultivated vegetables – Brassica oleracea (cabbage), Daucus carota (carrot), Allium cepa (onion), Spinacia oleracea(spinach) and Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) – was examined. The vegetables were locally cultivated in home gardens in Alice, a small town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Samples of these vegetables were randomly collected from residential areas, dried, digested and analysed for the heavy metals using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry. The concentrations of heavy metals in the vegetables were in the range of 0.01 mg/kg – 1.12 mg/kg dry weight for cadmium, 0.92 mg/kg – 9.29 mg/kg for copper, 0.04 mg/kg – 373.38 mg/kg for manganese and 4.27 mg/kg – 89.88 mg/kg for zinc. Lead was undetectable in all the samples. Results of analysis of soils from the area revealed that cadmium in soil was in the range of 0.01 mg/kg – 0.08 mg/kg, copper levels were 4.95 mg/kg – 7.66 mg/kg, lead levels were 5.15 mg/kg – 14.01 mg/kg and zinc levels were 15.58 mg/kg – 53.01 mg/kg. The concentration of manganese was the highest of all the metals, ranging between 377.61 mg/kg and 499.68 mg/kg, at all three residential sites. Although the concentrations in soils and vegetables of the critical heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, may not pose a threat (according to FAO/WHO standards), the concentration of manganese was very high in spinach and soils, whilst that of zinc exceeded safe levels in spinach, onions and tomatoes. However, neither the soils nor the vegetables were consistently found to pose a risk to human health.

Author Biography

Callistus Bvenura, Phytomedicine Research Centre, University of Fort Hare, Alice
Botany department and PhD student