Friday, July 24, 2009

The problem of high levels of nickel in soils and plants in the ultramafic area in Samar, Philippines

Contributed by Janice P. Susaya, Sejong University, Seoul, Korea

One of the heavy metals that commonly occur in elevated amounts in natural ecosystems is nickel (Ni). Ni is considered an essential micronutrient for plants, humans, and animals. It can exist in trace amounts in air, food, drinking water, and soils. Although Ni plays an important role in the metabolism of humans and animals, its intake in excesssive amounts or over a prolonged period could pose health ricsks. Studies have shown that children living in polluted areas have hypertrophy of tonsils, enlarged lymphatic nodes, and enlarged livers. There is also evidence that soluble Ni particulate is linked to acute lung injury.

High Ni levels in natural ecosystems commonly come from ultramafic rocks (also called ultrabasic rocks). These are intrusive igneous rocks containing less than 45% silica (SiO2) with high concentrations of Ni, Mg, Fe, Cr, and Co. They are found in many places around the world and are common in many places in the Philippine like in Salcedo in the island of Samar.The watershed has a highly weathered soil (Oxisol) derived from the weathering of ultramafic rock. Previous studies conducted in the watershed revealed excessive levels of Ni, Cu, and Cr in the soil. Many farmers also complain of unexplained health problems which may be related to heavy metal toxicity.

In a study conducted in the Salcedo watershed and recently published in the international scientific journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Susaya and co-workers (Susaya et al., 2009) evaluated the degree of Ni contamination in soils and plants in the watershed. The plants sampled included native species (non-food) such as Phyllanthus amarus, Melastoma affine, and Stachytarpeta jamaicensis as well as cultivated food crops like Calocasia esculenta, Citrullus vulgaris, Artocarpus heterophylla, Moringa oleifera, Psidium guajava, Lycopersicon esculentum, and Solanum melongena.

Results of the study showed that the quantity of total Ni in the soil was significantly high with a mean of 1,409 mg kg-1 while the available Ni was low with a mean of 8.66 mg kg-1. As the levels of total Ni greatly exceeded the maximum allowable concentration for agricultural soils, the site is not suitable for agricultural purposes. Available Ni levels were low due to the tight binding between Ni and the soil components. This explains why all plants investigated did not met the criterion for a Ni hyperaccumulator plant. Comparison of Ni levels between the food plants sampled and its recommended daily intake (RDI) suggests that consumption of a particular food plant grown in the study area is unlikely to pose health problems. However, prolonged consumption of a given food plant with high Ni level or combined consumption of different food plants with high Ni levels can induce accumulation of Ni above the RDI and thus could cause health problems.


Susaya JP, KH Kim, VB Asio, ZS Chen, and IA Navarrete. 2009. Quantifying nickel in soils and plants in the ultramafic area in Philippines. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (now available online at


alotstuff said...

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christabelle said...

what is the permissible level of nickel in soil?

christabelle said...

what is the permissible level of nickel in the soil?