Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 1, January-March 2009
Page(s) 175 - 184
Published online 21 August 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 175-184
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008031

Cadmium in soils and cereal grains after sewage-sludge application on French soils. A review

Denis Baize

INRA, UR0272, Science du Sol, Centre de recherche d'Orléans, BP 20619, 45166 Olivet Cedex, France

Accepted 29 May 2008 ; published online 21 August 2008

Abstract - Recycling sewage sludges as fertilisers on soils for crop production has several potential benefits such as providing large amounts of phosphorous and organic matter. However, the spreading of urban sewage sludge is a constant cause of controversy because it is known to introduce potentially toxic trace metals into the soil, particularly cadmium. In order to clarify this debate, this review article presents a synthesis of the results of several studies carried out in France on the impact of sewage-sludge spreading. This article reports mainly Cd results but also some results on other trace metals such as Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb and Zn. Two kinds of data are presented: (1) soil data including total metal contents and data from partial extraction to evaluate the phytoavailable fractions, and (2) plant data including metal content of wheat, a major agricultural crop. The field experiments involved very different amounts of applied sewage sludges and Cd. Indeed, three categories of experiments stand out, the first and second involving high amounts of applied Cd, and the third involving low amounts of applied Cd: (1) during the 1970s and '80s, sludges with a high trace metal content, especially Cd, were spread at the INRA trials at Couhins experimental farm on sandy soils and in the Vexin area on silty topsoils. The quantities of applied Cd were very high, ranging from 3600 g to 641 000 g per ha. Here, the results show a notable impact on total Cd contents of topsoil and cereal grains. (2) Sludges containing high levels of industrial cadmium were spread on acid soils in the Limousin region for more than twenty years up to 1998. Topsoil Cd contents were measured in fields where the cadmium input was highest, of 300 to 600 g Cd per ha. Here, a clear increase in the Cd content of cereal grains was found. (3) During the 1990s and 2000s, numerous experiments with sewage-sludge applications compatible with the new French regulations of 1998 were implemented. The amounts of applied Cd were therefore much lower, from 0.6 to 270 g/ha. Here, no impact was detected on the composition of cereal grains. This review article concludes that the application of huge quantities of sewage sludges in the 1970s and '80s had a clear and long-lasting effect on both soil and grain Cd compositions. Nonetheless, spreading sewage sludge in accordance with the new French regulations had no significant impact on soil and cereal-grain Cd concentrations.

Key words: cadmium / cereal grains / phytoavailability / sewage sludge / soil / total content

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008