The invasive butterbur contaminates stream and seepage water in groundwater wells with toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids

Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 13;10(1):19784. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-76586-1.


Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are persistent mutagenic and carcinogenic compounds produced by many common plant species. Health authorities recommend minimising human exposure via food and medicinal products to ensure consumer health and safety. However, there is little awareness that PAs can contaminate water resources. Therefore, no regulations exist to limit PAs in drinking water. This study measured a PA base concentration of ~ 70 ng/L in stream water adjacent to an invasive PA-producing plant Petasites hybridus (Asteraceae). After intense rain the PA concentration increased tenfold. In addition, PAs measured up to 230 ng/L in seepage water from groundwater wells. The dominant PAs in both water types corresponded to the most abundant PAs in the plants (senkirkine, senecionine, senecionine N-oxide). The study presents the first discovery of persistent plant toxins in well water and their associated risks. In addition, it for the first time reports monocrotaline and monocrotaline N-oxide in Petasites sp.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't