Assessing the Groundwater Quality at a Saudi Arabian Agricultural Site and the Occurrence of Opportunistic Pathogens on Irrigated Food Produce

Dhafer Alsalah, Nada I. Aljassim, Kenda Hussain Hassan Timraz, Pei-Ying Hong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This study examines the groundwater quality in wells situated near agricultural fields in Saudi Arabia. Fruits (e.g., tomato and green pepper) irrigated with groundwater were also assessed for the occurrence of opportunistic pathogens to determine if food safety was compromised by the groundwater. The amount of total nitrogen in most of the groundwater samples exceeded the 15 mg/L permissible limit for agricultural irrigation. Fecal coliforms in densities > 12 MPN/100 mL were detected in three of the groundwater wells that were in close proximity to a chicken farm. These findings, coupled with qPCR-based fecal source tracking, show that groundwater in wells D and E, which were nearest to the chicken farm, had compromised quality. Anthropogenic contamination resulted in a shift in the predominant bacterial phyla within the groundwater microbial communities. For example, there was an elevated presence of Proteobacteria and Cyanobacteria in wells D and E but a lower overall microbial richness in the groundwater perturbed by anthropogenic contamination. In the remaining wells, the genus Acinetobacter was detected at high relative abundance ranging from 1.5% to 48% of the total groundwater microbial community. However, culture-based analysis did not recover any antibiotic-resistant bacteria or opportunistic pathogens from these groundwater samples. In contrast, opportunistic pathogenic Enterococcus faecalis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were isolated from the fruits irrigated with the groundwater from wells B and F. Although the groundwater was compromised, quantitative microbial risk assessment suggests that the annual risk incurred from accidental consumption of E. faecalis on these fruits was within the acceptable limit of 10−4. However, the annual risk arising from P. aeruginosa was 9.55 × 10−4, slightly above the acceptable limit. Our findings highlight that the groundwater quality at this agricultural site in western Saudi Arabia is not pristine and that better agricultural management practices are needed alongside groundwater treatment strategies to improve food safety.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12391-12411
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 5 2015

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KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01


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