The lack of potable water in arid countries leads to the use of treated sewage water (TSW) for crop growth. Mercury accumulation (up to 500 ng/g) in agricultural soil originating from daily irrigation with TSW was found at two sites fed separately from a hospital sewage plant and an industrial plant. A control site irrigated with potable water ([Hg] <0.01 ng/ml) had much reduced levels in soil (<12 ng/g). Cold-vapour analysis of TSW revealed that Hg concentrations fluctuated widely, and were between 10-100 times higher than those of potable water. The TSW data originated from a total of 46 samples (1L each), from both plants, collected over a 6-month period. The Hg levels varied from 0.1 to 1.0 ng/ml, which suggested that the possible source of the accumulation could be found in continuous irrigation with comparatively higher Hg levels. Remedial measures could be approached from the perspective of curbing this inconsistency to produce more consistent Hg concentrations below 0.5 ng/ml. It was found that the electrical conductivity of TSW is a useful indicator to rapidly monitor fluctuations in treatment. A novel development in the study was the potential capacity of the plastic TSW discharge-pipes to behave as crude ‘chromatographic’ columns for possible Hg adsorption. If this property of the pipes is developed further it could have a considerable mitigating effect on the Hg levels. Possible recommendations for remediation to limit the Hg levels and promote sustainable development are discussed.

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