Heavy metals: what are they?

The Presence of Heavy Metals in soil is a major threat to the human food-chain

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The mission of Safer Phosphates™ is to share knowledge and address concerns about heavy metals that are present in some phosphate-based fertilizers. We want to improve understanding of the potential risks and promote solutions that optimize fertilizer choice, in order to support food security and sustainable agriculture.

How do heavy metals become a health risk?

How do heavy metals become a health risk?

Heavy metals persist for a long time after being introduced into soils. Taking cadmium as an example, it does not decompose, but relocates to lower soil layers, or transfers into waterways. It can be taken up by plants, the extent of which is influenced by the total volume of heavy metal containing material applied, the concentration of heavy metal in the material, prevailing climate conditions, soil properties (e.g. PH levels) and plant properties

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How do heavy metals become a health risk?

How heavy metals affect the body

  • Prolonged exposure can affect the skin, bones, organ & nervous system functionality, and contribute to the development of cancer.

  • According to the World Health Organization, around 200,000 people die every year from chemical poisoning, including poisoning by HMs.

  • Dietary intake plays a role: higher consumption of crops grown in HM-contaminated soils/drinking water may lead to an accumulation of HMs & toxicity in the body.

  • Some crops are also more susceptible to HMs uptake than other


How heavy metals affect soil

How heavy metals affect soil

  1. Inhibit biodegradation of organic contaminants

  2. Modify soil properties, especially microbiological ones

  3. Limit number, diversity and activity of soil micro-organisms

  4. Reduce crop growth, performance & yields

  5. Could transfer into food chain, reducing food & water quality

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The Weakest Link In The Food Chain

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Legislative Progress Since 2016

The Role of Legislators in the management of soil in the human food chain

The European Commission has for some time been concerned over the long-term implications of cadmium build-up across European soils. Since the 1980s it has been weighing up options to limit exposure to cadmium – including the regulation of fertilizers. In 2016, through the Circular Economy Package, the Commission has proposed introducing progressive cadmium limits to phosphate fertilizers, thereby harmonizing quality standards amongst member states and protecting the soil for future generations.