The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the research and knowledge department of the European Commission, has recently published a technical report titled “Cadmium in the Soils of the EU: Analysis of LUCAS Soils data for the review of Fertilizer Directive”.
The report offers evidence-based support for the European policymaking process when it comes to EU legislation on fertilizers.
The investigation on the levels of cadmium (Cd) in European soils presented in this report uses samples taken during the LUCAS survey from roughly 22 000 measurement sites. The LUCAS survey provides the most thorough analysis of cadmium in the soils of EU member states, with over 9 000 samples from agricultural soils and an additional 4 700 samples from grassland soils.
Cadmium values in the LUCAS survey range from the limit of detection (0.07 mg·kg-1) to a maximum of 65.4 mg·kg-1 and have a mean value of 0.17 mg·kg-1 (all soils). The average cadmium concentration in EU agricultural soils is 0.15 mg-kg-1, while in grasslands, it is 0.20·mg kg-1.
Furthermore, LUCAS soil data demonstrates that the overall values of cadmium in European soils are higher than those reported by the FOREGS study in 2008 (0.148 mg·kg -1; more information about the FOREGS study is available at https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC40917).
The differences in cadmium concentrations in the soils of EU member states is rather significant, where some countries (particularly Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden) have low cadmium concentrations on average, while others have quite high average concentrations of cadmium (Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia). It is important to keep in mind that some of the outliers – those with the highest concentrations – occur in countries with a usually low-average concentration (e.g. Spain, Romania). Regions with some of the highest mean cadmium concentrations can be found in Germany, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia Spain and the United Kingdom.
The report presents a map of the probability of exceeding the threshold concentration of 1 mg·kg-1 of cadmium in soil. It is interesting to note that, while some of the high-probability areas are widespread, others represent clear hotspots. Poland, for example, seems to have a probability of exceeding the threshold high over the whole country, but Spain has only one hotspot where the probability is high. This might support the hypothesis that different processes of cadmium contamination occur in different countries.
Finally, the report states the following: “While Cadmium can occur naturally in almost all agricultural soils, levels are significantly augmented by the application of cadmium-containing fertilisers, sewage sludge and atmospheric deposition (although in the EU this pathway is almost negligible)”. The JRC clearly states that cadmium is toxic and that its persistence in the environment and its accumulation and uptake by the food chain make it a public health concern. The main impact of the substance on human health that has been reported is kidney disease and other adverse effects (e.g. affecting the pulmonary, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems).
More information on the JRC report is available here: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/aa06216a-a764-11ed-b508-01aa75ed71a1/language-en.