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EU agrees on maximum cadmium level in fertilisers


The metallic element cadmium (Cd) is generally present in the earth’s crust at low levels. On average, the metal concentration is about 0.15 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of soil. However, cadmium is present at elevated levels as an impurity in phosphate deposits in many countries, including in northwestern Africa, and the ore from these deposits is used to produce mineral fertilisers. Cadmium concentrations vary significantly by geography and the amount of cadmium transferred from rock to fertilizer depends on the fertilizer manufacturing process. In single superphosphate and triple superphosphate manufacturing processes, all of the cadmium transfers to the fertilizer. Caused by the application of fertilizers, soil cadmium levels around the world have steadily increased. Plants readily take up cadmium into their leaves, stems, roots and tubers, and to a lesser extent their seeds, grains, and fruits. Cadmium is recognized as a human carcinogen, a classification mainly based on occupational studies of lung cancer. Other cancers have been reported, but dose-response relationships cannot be defined. Cardiovascular disease has been associated with cadmium exposure in recent epidemiological studies, but more evidence is needed in order to establish causality. Adequate evidence of dose-response relationships is available for kidney effects. Human exposure is mainly via the diet. Risk assessment studies suggest that cadmium in food may be significant as low as 5 μg/kg or 5 ppb. In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established a provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) level of 2.5 μg/kg body weight. This translates to an intake level of about 17 to 25 μg Cd per day for an adult and less for children.

The EU Initiative to limit Cd levels in fertilizers:
According to a statement of the European Parliament, the EU imports more than 6 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year but could recover much more through recycling. It said that only 5 percent of waste organic material is being re-used as fertilizer in the bloc.

Photo: European Parliament (Copyright: CC-by-sa 3.0)

Tuesday’s preliminary decision, which has yet to receive final approval from the European Parliament and the bloc’s member states, sets a limit of 60 milligrams of cadmium per kilogram of fertilizer in a move the EU’s legislative said would promote organic fertilisers.

“The agreed text introduces limits for heavy metals, such as cadmium, in phosphate fertilisers to reduce health and environmental risks,” the European Parliament said in a statement, adding that the new limit would take effect three years after the new law is enacted.

Phosagro and Norwegian fertilizer maker Yara are potential winners, along with producers in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, while rivals from Morocco and Tunisia stand to lose out because their products contain more cadmium, industry sources said.

The chief executive of Phosagro, Andrey Guryev, welcomed the decision, saying: “We will continue to sell our premium-quality products, which are well below the limits introduced.”

An EU mineral fertilizer industry lobby group broadly welcomed the preliminary agreement but said the 60 mg/kg limit was too harsh.

“We ... regret that the level of nutrients in mineral fertilisers was reduced,” Fertilizers Europe also said.

Originally, the Commission proposed reducing the cadmium limit from 60mg/kg to 40mg/kg after three years and 20mg/kg after 12 years, but these further cuts have now been scrapped.
The new rules, which still need to be formally approved by Members of the European Parliament, and the member states, will come into force three years after they are introduced.

Source: Adapted from Reuters (Nov. 20, 2018)

Related information

PPRC: FAQs About Cadmium in Fertilizers

Related studies (newest first)

A.E. Ulrich, Cadmium governance in Europe's phosphate fertilizers: Not so fast ?, Sci. Total Environ., 650/1 (2019) 541-545. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.014

  G.F. Nordberg, A. Bernard, G.L. Diamond, J.H. Duffus, R. Illing, M. Nordberg, I.A. Bergdahl, Taiyi Jin, S. Skerfving, Risk assessment of effects of cadmium on human health (IUPAC Technical Report), Pure Appl. Chem., 90/4 (2018) 755-808. DOI: 10.1515/pac-2016-0910

M.W.C. Dharma-Wardana, Fertilizer usage and cadmium in soils, crops and food, Environ. Geochem. Health, 2018: DOI: 10.1007/s10653-018-0140-x

Erik Smolders, Scientific aspects underlying the regulatory framework in the area of fertilisers - state of play and future reforms, Report of the European Parliament, PE 595.354 (2017) 32 . available from: https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/04a20719-fff0-11e6-8a35-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

E.K. Ahialey, E.A. Kaka, D. Denutsui, R.K. Yankey, E. Quarshie, D.K. Sarfo, D.K. Adotey, S. Enti-Brown, Evaluation of the metal composition of phosphate fertilizers in Ghana, Global Adv. Res. J. Agric. Sci., 3/6 (2014) 152-157. available from: http://garj.org/garjas/6/2014/3/6/evaluation-of-metal-composition-of-phosphate-fertilizers-in-ghana

Nsihak U. Benson, Winifred U. Anake, Usoro M. Etesin, Trace Metals Levels in Inorganic Fertilizers Commercially Available in Nigeria, J. Sci. Res. Rep., 3/4 (2014) 610-620. DOI: 10.9734/JSRR/2014/7465

Barbara Cichy, Hanna Jaroszek, Andrzej Paszek, Agata Tarnowska, Cadmium in phosphate fertilizers, ecological and economical aspects, Chemik, 68 (2014) 837-842. available from: http://www.chemikinternational.com/year-2014/year-2014-issue-10/cadmium-in-phosphate-fertilizers-ecological-and-economical-aspects/

Terry L. Roberts, Cadmium and Phosphorus Fertilizers: The Issues and the Science, Prcedia Engineer., 83 (2014) 52-59. DOI: 10.1016/j.proeng.2014.09.012

A. El-Taher, Mohamed Anwar Kabdelhalim, Elemental Analysis of Phosphate Fertilizers consumed in Saudi Arabia, Life Sci. J., 10/4 (2013) 701-708: available from: http://www.lifesciencesite.com/lsj/life1004/089_21053life1004_701_708.pdf

Rafael Pérez-López, José Miguel Nieto, Israel López-Coto, Juan Luis Aguado, Juan Pedro Bolivar, María Santisteban, Dynamics of contaminants in phosphogypsum of the fertilizer industry of Huelva (SW Spain): From phosphate rock ore to the environment, Appl. Geochem., 25/5 (2010) 705-715. DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2010.02.003

Dharam Uprety, Michal Hejcman, Jirina Szakova, Evy Kunzová, Pavel Tlustos, Concentration of trace elements in arable soil after long-term application of organic and inorganic fertilizers, Nutr. Cycl. Agroecosyst., 85/3 (2009) 241-252. DOI: 10.1007/s10705-009-9263-x

C.B. Dissanayake, R. Chandrajith, Phosphate mineral fertilizers, trace metals and human health, J. Natl. Sci. Foundation Sri Lanka, 37/3 (2009) 153-165. DOI: 10.4038/jnsfsr.v37i3.1219

  L. Järup, A. Akesson, Current Status of Cadmium as an Environmental Health Problem.
J. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol., 238/3 (2009) 201-208. DOI: 10.1016/j.taap.2009.04.020

C.A. Grant, S.C. Sheppard, Fertilizers Impact on Cadmium Availability in Agricultural Soils and Crops, Hum. Ecol. Risk Assess., 14/2 (2008) 210-228. DOI: 10.1080/10807030801934895

Generose Nziguheba, Erik Smolders, Inputs of trace elements in agricultural soils via phosphate fertilizers in European countries, Sci. Total Environ., 390/1 (2008) 53-57. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2007.09.031

Y.S. Al-Faiyz, M.M. El-Garawany, F.N. Assubaie, M.A. Al-Eed, Impact of Phosphate Fertilizers on Cadmium Accumulation in Soil and Vegetable Crops, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 78/5 (2007) 358-362. DOI: 10.1007/s00128-007-9025-x

Wei-ping Chen, Andrew C. Chang, Laosheng Wu, Assessing long-term environmental risks of trace elements in phosphate fertilizers, Ecotoxicol. Environ. Safety, 67/1 (2007) 48-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2006.12.013

  Finnish Environmental Institute, Cadmium in Fertilizers, Risks to Human Health and the Environment. Study Report for the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. October 2000. available from: Intitutional Repository for the Government

Related EVISA Resources

EVISA Link Database: Toxicity of cadmium
EVISA Link Database: Environmental cadmium pollution

last time modified: November 27, 2023


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