Heavy metal contaminants in inorganic and organic fertilizers

Abstract

Commercial phosphate (P) fertilizers contain small amounts of heavy-metal contaminants which were minor constituents in phosphate rock (PR). Animal manures and sewage sludges (biosolids) are the main organic fertilizers and the latter also may contain heavy-metal contaminants. Heavy metals in biosolids may be found in the inorganic form or may be organically complexed, which could affect their chemical reactions in soil. These heavy metals may accumulate in soil with repeated fertilizer applications. Cadmium (Cd) is the heavy metal of most concern because it may affect human health. Other heavy metals of possible significance are arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), and vanadium (V). Some countries have set tolerance limits on heavy-metal additions to soil because their long-term effects are unknown. These limits usually are set for the tillage layer (surface 20–30 cm) of soil where most root activity occurs. Controls on heavy-metal concentrations in sewage biosolids and their maximum total and annual loading rates to soil have been imposed in some countries. Regulations also have been proposed for phased-in limits on maximum heavy metal concentrations permitted in P fertilizers, or they are already in effect. Most of the fertilizer regulations relate Cd limits to P concentrations, so P application rates dictate Cd inputs to soil. Regulations affecting sewage biosolids include a number of heavy metals, while those concerning P fertilizers only include limits on Cd at this time.

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Mortvedt, J.J. Heavy metal contaminants in inorganic and organic fertilizers. Fertilizer Research 43, 55–61 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00747683

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Key words

  • biosolids
  • cadmium
  • heavy metal limits
  • lead
  • phosphate fertilizers
  • regulations
  • sewage sludge