Accumulation of cadmium and uranium in arable soils in Switzerland

Bigalke, Moritz; Ulrich, Andrea; Rehmus, Agnes; Keller, Anita (2017). Accumulation of cadmium and uranium in arable soils in Switzerland. Environmental pollution, 221, pp. 85-93. Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.11.035

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Mineral phosphorus (P) fertilizers contain contaminants that are potentially hazardous to humans and the environment. Frequent mineral P fertilizer applications can cause heavy metals to accumulate and reach undesirable concentrations in agricultural soils. There is particular concern about Cadmium (Cd) and Uranium (U) accumulation because these metals are toxic and can endanger soil fertility, leach into groundwater, and be taken up by crops. We determined total Cd and U concentrations in more than 400 topsoil and subsoil samples obtained from 216 agricultural sites across Switzerland. We also investigated temporal changes in Cd and U concentrations since 1985 in soil at six selected Swiss national soil monitoring network sites. The mean U concentrations were 16% higher in arable topsoil than in grassland topsoil. The Cd concentrations in arable and grassland soils did not differ, which we attribute to soil management practices and Cd sources other than mineral P fertilizers masking Cd inputs from mineral P fertilizers. The mean Cd and U concentrations were 58% and 9% higher, respectively, in arable topsoil than in arable subsoil, indicating that significant Cd and U inputs to arable soils occurred in the past. Geochemical mass balances confirmed this, indicating an accumulation of 52% for Cd and 6% for U. Only minor temporal changes were found in the Cd concentrations in topsoil from the six soil-monitoring sites, but U concentrations in topsoil from three sites had significantly increased since 1985. Sewage sludge and atmospheric deposition were previously important sources of Cd to agricultural soils, but today mineral P fertilizers are the dominant sources of Cd and U. Future Cd and U inputs to agricultural soils may be reduced by using optimized management practices, establishing U threshold values for mineral P fertilizers and soils, effectively enforcing threshold values, and developing and using clean recycled P fertilizers.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Soil Science
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Bigalke, Moritz, Rehmus, Agnes


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Elsevier Science




Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2017 09:17

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:01

Publisher DOI:





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