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Education and Outreach Programs

Lemont High School ESRP 2020

Root Uptake of Arsenic in Common Plants and Vegetables


  • Students:
    • Benjamin Clarage
    • Karolina Gal
    • Kelsi Padalia
    • Isabella Pirie
    • Mirella Sammartano
    • Sanamtha Trejo
    • Inez Yaagoub
  • Teachers:
    • Karen Aleman
    • Erin Horan
  • Mentors:
    • Olga Antipova (Argonne National Laboratory, XSD-MIC)
    • George Sterbinsky (Argonne National Laboratory, XSD-SPC)

Advanced Photon Source Sector 2: Microscopy; Advanced Photon Source Sector 9: Spectroscopy Group

The presence of arsenic in Bangladesh, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Mexico, and United States soil samples recently drew the attention of the World Health Organization due to the toxicity these elements produce. Arsenic is a common groundwater and soil contaminant, particularly in rural areas; the mean Arsenic levels within United States soil are 5.0 mg/kg. Excessive exposure to inorganic arsenic has been linked to vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Inorganic arsenic is also a confirmed carcinogen. The first symptoms of long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic (for example, through drinking-water and food) are usually observed in the skin, and include pigmentation changes, skin lesions, and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet (hyperkeratosis). These occur after a minimum exposure of approximately five years and may be a precursor to skin cancer. In addition to skin cancer, long-term exposure to arsenic may also cause cancers of the bladder and lungs. These elements contaminate and harm plant life--therefore increasing unsustainability in local ecosystems. Arsenic in the soil is generally found to be a mix of As(III) and As(V).

Through Lemont High School’s Exemplary Student Research Program (2018-2020), students worked closely with Dr. Olga Antipova (Argonne National Laboratory) and George Sterbinsky (Argonne National Laboratory) to examine the relationship between the contamination of these plants with heavy metals and their root uptake with a focus on arsenic. Our student group participated in testing, observation, and analysis of plant uptake of arsenic to determine the long-term impacts of element toxicity and its relation to plant vitality. It’s essential to understand the allowance of these elements in ground-rooted plants to produce a high confidence level to regulate these elements in consumer products.

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