Microbial contamination in surface water and potential health risks for peri-urban farmers of the Bengal delta

Kamonashish Haldar*, Katarzyna Kujawa-Roeleveld, Nynke Hofstra, Dilip Kumar Datta, Huub Rijnaarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Ensuring safe irrigation practices is vital to sustaining food production in water-scarce delta areas. Bangladesh and many other developing countries discharge untreated wastewater into their surrounding surface water bodies, serving as the primary irrigation source. This indirect irrigation of wastewater is believed to pose threats to the farmers, consumers and market vendors and may also affect crop and soil quality. To assess the risk, peri-urban farmers who use surrounding water bodies of Khulna city, Bangladesh, for crop irrigation were selected for the study. The microbial and heavy metal concentrations were measured in water samples collected from various locations over different seasons. For heavy metals As, Co, Ni, Cd, Cr, Cu and Pb, concentrations were below the detection limit, whereas Al, Fe, Mn, Ti and Zn were present but below the FAO recommendation limit for safe irrigation. The mean concentrations of microbial parameters were above the thresholds of WHO guidelines for crop irrigation intended for human consumption. Significant temporal variations in Faecal Coliform, E. coli and Enterococcus concentrations in the water samples were observed. The annual risk of infection for farmers was determined using the screening-level Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA). The results indicated that the annual probability of infection with pathogenic E. coli in different seasons ranges between 5 × 10−3 to 5 × 10−2, above the WHO's acceptable threshold for annual risk of infection for safe water reuse in agriculture. During the farmers' survey, around 45% reported health-related issues and more than 26% reported suffering from water-borne diseases after getting in contact with polluted surface water. This illustrates the actuality of the risks in practice. To ensure safe irrigation, the health risks need to be reduced below the acceptable limits. Suggested technical measures include adequate treatment of wastewater before disposal into rivers and access to protective equipment for farmers. This should be complemented by raising awareness through education programs among farmers to reduce accidental ingestion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114002
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Farmers
  • Health risks
  • Heavy metals
  • Pathogenic indicators
  • Risk perception


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