IMAGINE yourself bragging to everyone that you are going to live a hundred years because you are a vegetarian and you keep a healthy lifestyle. However, before you even reach 40, you are already lying in a hospital bed undergoing treatment for lead poisoning. And you wonder, what went wrong?

The scenario may be far too exaggerated. But says the thesis of Faculty of Engineering students Gracielle Gamboa, Evelyn Evanglista and Sherlock Evanglista titled “Lead Concentrate in the Leaves and Stems of Brassica Juncea,” it is possible.

The study won the best thesis poster presentation during the Chemical Engineering Student Research Congress 2004. It studies the hazards of eating leafy vegetables that absorb various pollutants, such as lead, which, if taken in high amounts, can cause irreparable damage to our nervous system. The early symptoms of its effect to the nervous system may start as fatigue, nervousness, anxiety and sleeplessness which may lead to behavioral problems such as poor memory, visual disturbances and confusion. In rare and more severe cases, encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, and serious psychological problems may occur.

According to Virgilio Agbayani, the group’s thesis adviser, the research initially used a number of test plants that are able to absorb pollutants such as lead. To further improve the study, they zeroed in on the plant which registered the highest percentage of lead absorbed. The results showed that the Brassica juncea (Indian mustard), commonly known in the Philippines as mustasa, absorbed the highest amount of lead.

Brassica juncea is usually used as an ingredient for salads or it could be eaten fresh. If grown in a land that has a high concentration of lead, this may pose a high risk for vegetable lovers.

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The experiment began by exposing the Indian Mustard to different parameters.

The group found out that urea was the best fertilizer to be used and pH6 the best pH level of the soil wherein the plant best absorbs lead. EDTA (ethylenediaminete-traaceticacid) was used as a chelating agent to maximize the absorption capability of the Indian mustard.

According to Agbayani, people should be aware that there are plants that absorb these kinds of pollutants. If not, they would keep on eating these seemingly harmless plants and later on suffer from toxic effects of lead in our nervous system.

On the other hand, these plants also play a major role in minimizing the lead concentration of lands. These plants can be used deliberately to absorb lead and lower the lead concentration of the soil in a process called phyto-remediation.

Phytoremediation is the use of plants to detoxify the soil, sediment and water contaminated with metals and/or organic contaminants such as crude oil, solvents and polyaromatic hydro-carbons.

According to Agbayani, phyto-remediation is new here in the Philippines and limited researches were conducted about it. He stressed that the group has a different approach in their research compared to other researches.

In the end, the study is not only innovative but very significant as well. It shows the potential of Indian mustard in solving the threat of lead contaminated soil. It also cautions us once again how looks can be deceiving—how healthy looking green leaves may not be healthy after all.

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