Vol 6 No 2 2021 – 14


Assimilation of natural Radionuclides in the wheat plant from cultivated soil

Suad A. Alsaedi1, Naseer A. Alsaadie*1,  Raghad S. Mouhamad1,  Nibras A. Yass2
Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.21931/RB/2021.06.02.14

The intake of naturally nuclides 238U, 232Th, and 40K by wheat crop from two different fertilization soils of Iraq was studied under natural farm conditions. The overall mean of soil to wheat cereal transfer factors (TF) was studied and observed to be in the range of 0.6 × 10-3 to 0.70 × 10-3 for 238U, 0.11 × 10-3 to 0.13 × 10-3 for 232Th and 0.054 to 0.055 for 40K. The calculated values of TF for wheat grain denote that 40K are the significant radionuclides that are transferred in grain. This evaluation is most important for the production of foodstuffs with low contents of radionuclides. The assimilation of radionuclides by consuming wheat cereals from the farms studied gives a small fraction to the total annual ingestion dose received by a person due to naturally existent radioactivity material in the environment. This study proves that the natural radioactivity and Ingestion effective dose was lower than the safe, which the total of the dose received from 238U and 232Th due to consumption of wheat grains alone from fertilized field 0.056 and 0.045 mSv y-1 from the unfertilized field total ingestion dose, the dose received from 40K due to the consumption from the unfertilized and fertilized field was 0.0102 and 0.0137 respectively. The dose values were less than the limit value of 0.30 mSv y-1. Therefore, the consumption of these foods has no health risks. This process may help to obtain basics on radiological health regulations
The activity concentration of natural radionuclides 238U, 232Th, and 40K in fertilized and unfertilized soil and wheat plants growing into is statistically significant at 1% level of significance using an independent t-test.
Keywords: Gamma spectrometry, soils, wheat, radiation exposure.  
Soil–plant–man is one of the main paths for transferring radionuclides to human being1. These naturally occurring radionuclide may get carried to plants and the nutrients during elements uptake, accumulate in different parts and even reach the edible portions. When consumed through man and animal as nutrition, these crops or their parts would cause contribute irradiation. Food is one of man’s unique needs, and the numerous world population has become a menace to global food safety. Therefore, the requirement to increase agricultural food production arises to ensure food security for the growing world population. Due to this critical need of man, Mineral fertilizers are chemical compounds that provide necessary elements and nutrients to the plants are substantial and more used inputs in agriculture, helping contribute to global food security, farmer sustenance, and essential human nutrition. Besides, to increase the amount, quality of land and enhance crop productivity2,3. Like the remnant of the world, Iraq’s population is increasing, and there is also the need to increase the availability of food by increasing the rate of food production via the application of chemical fertilizers. The primary raw materials for producing chemical fertilizers must therefore supply the essential nutrients necessary for plant growth. The essential nutrients are Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Natural radioactivity of mainly Uranium-238(238U), Thorium-232 (232Th), and Potassium-40 (40K) seen in phosphate fertilizers emanate from the phosphate ore (due to geological reasons), which is the primary raw material used for phosphate fertilizer production. The application of phosphate fertilizer globally for increased crop production and land reclamation has risen to more than 30 million tons annually4. The data on plant uptake of radionuclides under natural field conditions, especially from background areas, are scarce. The soil properties such as pH, clay minerals, Ca, K, organic matter contents, and fertilizer application can strongly affect the retention, uptake, and distribution of radionuclides in plants. As a result, it may be rather difficult to predict the rates of uptake of radionuclide in a particular site. Uranium, thorium, and potassium concentrations are often higher in phosphate-rich soils. The range and average concentration of radionuclides 235U, 238U, 40K and 226Ra Bq kg-1 in phosphate fertilizers around the world was 1.6-53 (15 ± 1), 26-1145 (220 ± 20), 23-12324 (4860 ± 250) and 4-393 (87 ±  8) 5. The content of the radioactive elements 238U, 235U, 232Th in the local Triple Super Phosphate (TSP) fertilizer used in Iraqi agricultural soils was 6.46, 0.068, and 4.35 mg kg-1, and local NPK fertilizer was 1.83, 0.015, and 0.838 mg kg-16. Application of certain fertilizers with higher concentrations of these radionuclides—for example, common mineral fertilizer superphosphate—can potentially result in accumulation of 238U, 232Th, and 40K in food crops grown in the amended soils7,8,9.
All types of food, including wheat, have a detectable amount of radioactivity successfully transferred to the human body through the route of ingestion. We also know that food activity is closely related to agricultural soil activity where food crops were grown under these conditions. Among various earth samples, the soils of wheat have been chosen for radioactivity studies because this crop is trendy, widespread, and considered a strategic crop. Currently, there is not much information on radioactivity concentration in food, especially a wheat plant, Which is one of the most important crops in Iraq, as Iraq’s arable land is estimated at 8 million hectares, comprising less than 15% of the country’s total area is mostly concentrated in the north and northeast and the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. However, only 4 to 5 million hectares are being cultivated. , where crops are grown. Cereal production (mostly wheat, barley, and corn) is the principal agricultural activity in Iraq, accounting for 70 to 85% of cultivated area. The main varieties cultivated in Iraq are Alnoor, Ebaa 99/95, Wahat Al Iraq, Al Hashemeia, Sham 6, Dour 29, Al Rasheed, Al Hadbaa Al Fateh. The average yield in Iraq is 1.1 T/ha by adding compound fertilizers amount 140 kg/ha while the world average is about 2.8 T/ha10, there is only a limited number of studies that evaluate soil and fertilizers. We decided to measure the concentration of natural radionuclides in wheat plant widely cultivated in fertilized and unfertilized soil for these reasons. This study aims to determine if natural radioactivity in wheat plants from soil to assess soil radioactivity’s impact on crops the health implication on the man who is the final consumer.
Soil and wheat samples were carried on from 20 agricultural fields surrounding Kut city (Capital of Wasit Governorate–Iraq) and provided the population with a part of wheat harvest used in the mills to produce flour for daily consumption (Fig. 1). Two types of cultivated fields of the study area were studied, one field was fertilized with 300 kg/ha of ammonium phosphate fertilizer before sowing the seeds, and the other was unfertilized. The fields measuring about 200 m2 were divided into small sub-sections of 20 m2 each. The soil was sampled from each sub-section, including the surface layer, and to a depth of 10 cm as wheat has an adventitious root system, spreads in the upper layer of the soil, and does not go deep. The soil samples from 3 to 4 points in a single sub-section were mixed, dried, sieved, and homogenized to obtain a composite sample representative of that section. Three a portion of about 1 kg soil was taken from this complex sample for further analysis, and their average activity has been reported as one sample. Likewise, around 20–30 utterly mature wheat crops were taken from every sub-section of the selected fields and separated into the grain.
Figure 1. Area of study and sampling station.
Soil samples and grain (wheat plant samples) were dried for 48 hours in an oven at 100°C. Soil samples were grounded to pass an 80 mesh (0.5 mm opening) sieve. Plant samples, on the other hand, were also ground to pass 100 mesh sieve. Ground samples were kept in tightly closed jars for radioassay and other relevant analysis. Radio assays were performed using gamma-ray spectroscopy, a high purity germanium radiation detector (HPGe) with 40% efficiency, linked to a multi-channel analyzer (MCA) 8192 channel.  Results obtained were analyzed using the analytical program Giene-2000. Calibration of the Gama Spectrometer was performed using a standard analog radiometric source from 152Eu, 60CO.
Gamma rays resulting from the decay of natural uranium, thorium, and potassium were determined based on published reports of the United Nations Scientific Committee such as 40K, 226Ra, 214212Pb, as well as the industrial element 137Cs. The data on radioactivity concentration in soil and grains obtained from one field were subjected to Student’s t-test with the other field one to test the significance of the differences in their mean values at a 99% confidence level.
The specific activity due to 238U, 232Th, and 40K in the soils collected from all the fields has been measured as shown in Table (1). The mean radionuclide contents of the two types of soil show fertilization variations and reliance on them as one of the impact factors, which is well reflected in the current study. The use of ammonium phosphate fertilizers made from the original rock-phosphate mineral in the wasit field does change the soil’s radioactivity content appreciably as the difference between the average values of the fertilized and unfertilized fields is statistically significant. Previously reports by 11,12 on natural radioactivity content in soils of Iraq also confirm these results. The natural radioactivity contents obtained in the present study are within the range for acceptable limits background activity reported for soils worldwide13.
The mean activity concentration of  238U, 232Th, and 40K in fertilized soil Cultivated with the wheat plant is 27.3, 19.1, and 364 Bqkg-1, respectively, and for unfertilized soil is 19.2, 13.3, and 275 Bgkg-1, respectively. The T values of 5.33, 5.79, and 5.66 for 238U, 232Th, and 40K, respectively, being more significant than the critical T value at an alpha of 0.01 level of significance,  shows that the difference in activity concentration of naturally occurring radioactive materials in fertilized and unfertilized soil is statistically significant; thus the difference between the mean activity concentration of natural radionuclides 238U, 232Th and 40K  in fertilized and unfertilized soil may be due to increment in the rate of used fertilizers, especially phosphate fertilizer and this could also mean that agricultural fertilizers do have a significant impact on the transfer of natural radionuclides to the soil.

Table 1. Activity concentration of  238U, 232Th, and 40K (Bq kg-1) in soil (± Uncertainty).
A comparison showed that the fertilized soil contains a little higher concentrations of natural radionuclides than the unfertilized soil; the concentration of 238U, 232Th, and 40K in fertilized soils is one time more than that in the soils from unfertilized.
The concentration of 238U, 232Th, and 40K in the cereal is the edible portion of the wheat plant, immediately consumed by people, and can indicate ingestion dose to population. The concentrations of natural radionuclides analyzed of wheat grains planting in the fertilized, and unfertilized field are shown in (table 2). The range of specific activity concentration for 238U, 232Th, and 40K varied from 10.2 to 14.7 with average (13.4 mBq kg-1), 1.6 to 2.09 with average (1.73 mBq kg-1) and 9.21 to 17.4 with average (14.9 Bq kg-1) respectively, in wheat grains planting at Unfertilized Wasit province field, and 14.6 to 18.2 (16.5 mBq kg-1), 1.64 to 2.55 (2.04 mBq kg-1) and 12.0 to 36.2 (20.1Bq kg-1) respectively, for wheat crop grains planting in fertilized Wasit province.
T-test results (Table 2.) indicated that the difference between the overall mean of all studied radionuclide concentrations one by one into the grain of wheat cultivated through the two fields soil (Unfertilized and Fertilized) by conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be extremely statistically significant. The percentage of activity concentration 238U, 232Th, and 40K increased in the wheat grain of location fertilized field by 23, 18, and 35%, respectively, compared to their content in the unfertilized location.

Table 2. Activity concentration of  238U, 232Th, and 40K in wheat grains (± Uncertainty).  
The mean values of activity concentrations of 238U, 232Th, and 40K for the wheat grain samples in this study were too much lower than the accepted values referred by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation Sources13. The obtained results of activity concentrations of the impressive natural radionuclides had this order  40K > 238U > 232Th; the mean concentration was highest for 40k because 40K is an essential element of living organisms; therefore, the 40K radioactivity cannot be avoided. This result is following the information presented by 14,15. The study carried out by 16 found that the specific activity in wheat flour samples are available in Iraqi markets were varied from (1.09±0.087) to (12.5±2.03) Bq kg-1 for 238U, 232Th From (0.126±0.066) to (4.30±0.388) Bq kg-1 and 40K from (41.8±5.88) to (264.729 ± 3.843) Bq kg-1. A pot experiment was carried out, and Jew’s-mallow (Corchorus olitorius) is hugely a popular national Egyptian vegetable food that the Egyptians highly consume either as fresh or cooked food. Was cultivated on soil with fertilizers (NPK) and unfertilized by17 were found that the average value of the specific activity of 226Ra, 238U, 232Th, and 40K in Bq kg-1 for Jew’s-mallow plant fertilized was 0.501, 0.055, 0.136, and 11.4 respectively, and Non-Fertilized it was 0.29, 0.050, 0.130 and 9.83 respectively.
The food chain implants the primary path of the radionuclides entry into the human body; thus, the intake estimation of these radionuclides is fundamental. Among all parameters applied to assessing the concentrations of the radionuclide in plants, transfer factor from soil to plant (TF) is one of the most substantial parameters utilized in models to estimate the effects of radioactive contamination on the environment. This parameter reflects radionuclide uptake through roots and can be realized as the ratio of radioactivity unit per dry crop mass to that of unit per dry soil mass18Some factors that affect the natural radionuclides transfer from soil to plants, such as fertilization, plant species, and the soil properties19, transfer factors (TF) were calculated as the ratio of the radionuclide concentration in the plant (Bq/kg plant) to its concentration in soil (Bq/kg soil). The soil to grains transfer factor for radionuclides studied are given in  (Table 3) and compared with the default values suggested by IAEA 18.

Table 3. Transfer factor for 238U, 232Th, and 40K in wheat grain.   
The overall mean transfer factor (TFs) of  238U, 232Th, and 40K from unfertilized soil to grain wheat was 0.70 × 10-3, 0.13 × 10-3, and 0.054 respectively, compared with 0.60 × 10-3, 0.11 × 10-3 and 0.055 respectively, for the fertilized field. This finding indicated that the mean value of 238U uptake is greater than that of 232Th. These differences can be associated with the difference in solubility of elements with oxidation state +II. Uranium exhibits higher solubility than thorium in water, 20reported that thorium is less mobile than uranium, which is consistent with our TF observation of 232Th and 238U; generally, 40K exhibits a higher TF value in grain than that of 238U and 232Th because K is a significant nutrient needed by the plant in large quantities21. The experimental values of the transfer factor of natural radionuclide in wheat grains grown from both types of fields unfertilized and fertilized are close to the default value suggested by the IAEA. Also, the results showed that radionuclide concentrations in grain are not linearly related to soil concentrationsthese results are in agreement with that reported by22, the nearly comparable values of transfer factors for radionuclides despite their different concentration levels in soil is a result of very complex behavior of elements in the soil. 23have reported that the degree of accumulation of natural radioactive elements is affected by the metal-selective function of plants during the uptake of elements to maintain the mechanism of homeostasis in a typical environment.      
People are risky to natural radiation from external sources, including radionuclides in the earth, cosmic radiation, and internal radiation from radionuclides integrated into the body and from the significant ways of radionuclide intake ingestion of food and water. An appointed denomination of exposure to internal radiation radionuclides of (uranium and thorium) decay series and 40K existing in food consumed by people leads to ingestion. The Ingestion effective dose (DG,r) related to intake of 238U, 233Th, and 40K in foodstuff samples is reflected as a radiological hazard for human health. The annual effective ingestion dose to man due to the consumption of wheat grains can be estimated to utilize the formula is below24,25.


Where DG,r is the annual ingestion dose (mSv y−1), f indicates a food type, the coefficients Uf and Af,r represent the annual intake of grain wheat (kg y-1), and the specific activity of the radionuclide (r) of interest (Bq Kg-1), respectively, and gG,r is the conversion coefficient of dose for ingestion of radionuclide r (Sv Bq-1) in tissue grain (G). For the public, the adult conversion coefficient of dose gG,r for 238U, 232Th, and 40K  are 2.8×10−7, 2.2×10−7, and 6.2 ×10−9 Sv Bq-1, respectively24. The annual intake values of wheat for adults were taken as 110 kg y-1 26.
The effective ingestion dose in (mSv y-1) for adults due to specific activity of 238U, 232Th, and 40K in wheat grain samples is calculated using Eq. above shows in (Figure 1). The overall mean summation of the Ingestion effective dose was varied from (0.041, 0.004, and 0.010) mSv y−1, respectively, to (0.051, 0.005, and 0.014) mSv y−1, for wheat grains from the unfertilized and fertilized field. Figure 2 shows the comparison between the average of the ingestion effective dose for 238U, 232Th, and 40K in wheat grain samples which obtain the average of ingestion effective dose due to 238U was higher than due to 232Th and 40K because of the increased dose conversion coefficient for ingestion of radionuclide, the total of the dose received from 238U and 232Th due to consumption of wheat grains alone from the fertilized field (0.056 mSv) shall constitute 19.6% of the unfertilized field total ingestion dose (0.045 mSv). The individual and sum total of the dose received from these radionuclides’ contributions in wheat grains from two field ingestion doses are lower than the reference value 1 mSv y-1 recommended by 27.  
Figure. 2 . Dose acquired by intake of wheat grains
Cereals like wheat constitute a significant part of man’s daily diet; wheat is mainly used for food and used as feed/fodder. A gamma spectrometer was used to estimate the concentration of natural radionuclide activity in the soil and grain wheat from unfertilized and fertilized fields collected from the Wasit province. The specific activities of the radionuclides 238U, 232Th, and 40K in the soil, at all the investigated unfertilized locations, were in the range from 10.9 to 32.7, 1.2 to 36.1 and 23.0 to 290 Bq kg-1, respectively, and 11.2 to 36.1, 8.46 to 24.8 and 293 to 386 Bq kg-1, respectively, for fertilized location, radionuclides concentration and the two locations above in grain wheat were in the range of 10.2 to14.7 mBq kg-1, 1.64 to 2.09 mBq kg-1 and 9.21 to 17.4  Bq kg-1and 14.6- 18.2 mBq kg-1, 1.64 – 2.55 mBq kg-1 and 12.0–36.2 Bq kg-1, respectively. Thus, the application of soil fertilizer to increase yield increases the concentration of radionuclide biological activity. The site-specific TF calculated values for grain wheat indicate that 40K are the main radionuclides transferred in cereals. The site-specific TF obtained for a radionuclide serves as a useful tool to obtain precise and realistic dose estimate through terrestrial food chain models; the computed annual dose due to intake of uranium, thorium, radium, and potassium through the wheat grains grown in the agricultural fields under the present study is a small fraction of the reported global annual ingestion dose. The findings have been shown that consumed grain wheat is safe from any radiation risk. The current study suggests that other staple foodstuffs are needed to have a similar study to create baseline data of consumed foodstuffs to prepare a radiological map of Iraq.
Author Contributions
Conceptualization, Suaad A. Alsaedi; methodology, Naseer A. Al-Saadie; formal analysis, Suaad A. Alsaedi; investigation, Nibras A. Yass ; resources, Naseer A. Al-Saadie; writing—original draft preparation, Nibras A. Yass; writing—review and editing, Suaad A. Alsaedi; visualization, Raghad S. Mouhamad; project administration, Raghad S. Mouhamad.
All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding
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Received: 20 November 2020
Accepted: 25 January 2021
Suad A. Alsaedi1, Naseer A. Alsaadie*1,  Raghad S. Mouhamad1,  Nibras A. Yass2
1Agriculture Research Directorate, Ministry of Science and Technology, Baghdad, Iraq.
2Iraqi University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Geography  
* Correspondence: naseeralsaadie61@gmail.com ; https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7589-3526


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