The fate of pathogens in treated wastewater-soil-crops continuum and the effect of physical barriers

Olabiyi Obayomi, Lusine Ghazaryan, Menachem Ben-Hur, Menahem Edelstein, Ahuva Vonshak, Jamal Safi, Nirit Bernstein, Osnat Gillor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Secondary treated wastewater (TWW) could provide a cheap and sustainable alternative to potable water (PW) irrigation and ensure food security, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. However, TWW may pose a health risk by introducing pathogens to the irrigated soil and crop, and especially to irrigated vegetables that are eaten raw. To avoid contamination, national and international authorities have mandated the use of physical barriers, such as drip irrigation and plastic mulch, to separate the irrigation water and the crops. Although the barriers are mandated, it is not clear whether they prevent contamination of crops. To evaluate the role of barriers on crop safety, cucumbers and melons were cultivated in a field irrigated with TWW or PW with the application of barriers including surface and subsurface drip irrigation and plastic mulch. Over 500 samples of water, soil and the model crops (surface and tissue) were collected during two growing seasons and used to monitor fecal indicator bacteria and pathogens using culture dependent and independent methods. The results showed that there were no statistically significant differences in both the fecal indicator and the pathogen abundance between treatments in either the soil or the crops, regardless of the water quality or barrier applied, even though TWW supported higher diversity and abundance of indicators and pathogens than PW. Moreover, the microbial communities detected in the irrigated soils and crops could not be linked to the irrigation water. The obtained results suggest that irrigation with TWW does not result in fecal pathogen contamination of the irrigated soil or crops.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-349
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Crop
  • Field experiment
  • Illumina
  • Next generation sequencing
  • Source tracking
  • Vegetable

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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