Fertilizers Regulation: Proposed cadmium targets for phosphate fertilizers are not unrealistic

Phosphate fertilizers are now Europe’s main source of cadmium contamination, says Pavel Poc.

The debate over mineral phosphates in fertilizers has split political groups in the Parliament | Photo credit: Press Association

By Pavel Poc

29 May 2017

EU environmental policies have significantly reduced anthropogenic cadmium pollution by controlling emissions and restricting use in many household products.

However, cadmium remains present in mineral phosphate fertilizers and is now Europe’s main source of cadmium contamination.

As phosphate fertilizers are applied, cadmium accumulates in the soil and spreads to surrounding areas such as lakes and rivers or is taken up by crops and then to humans either directly or via animals feeding on the crops.


For tens of millions of European citizens, dietary exposure exceeds tolerable intake values. The European Commission’s regulation proposes limiting cadmium content in CE marked phosphate fertilizers initially at 60 mg/kg, eventually decreasing to 20 mg/kg after 12 years.

"As the S&D group’s shadow rapporteur for the Parliament’s environment committee opinion, defending these limits is my priority"

We must not dilute these limits under any circumstances. In fact, we should be able to avoid any increase by 2029.

This most recent proposal from the circular economy package is consistent with two objectives under the seventh environmental action programme - minimising exposure to hazardous substances and transitioning towards a non-toxic environment.

As the S&D group’s shadow rapporteur for the Parliament’s environment committee opinion, defending these limits is my priority.

Cadmium is highly toxic, with serious, often irreversible effects on human health and the environment. It is classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic for reproduction and toxic to specific organs. I am not blind to the potential economic consequences.

While a limit of 60 mg/kg would only affect eight per cent of currently available mineral phosphate fertilisers, further reductions to 40 and 20 mg/kg would increase this to 31 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.
To continue benefitting from the single market, many fertilizer manufacturers would need to invest in decadmiation technologies.

Decadmiation will make phosphate fertilization compatible with the circular economy’s objectives of developing non-toxic materials cycles, allowing recycled waste to be a major, reliable source of raw material.

Decadmiation technologies already exist and the CE fertilizing products regulation will allow producers a predictable environment and a reasonable timeframe to adapt. In addition, funding possibilities at EU level in support of decadmiation technologies exist for interested parties to explore.

These targets are realistic; several member states now provide examples of what can achieved, with individual cadmium limits for nationally marketed fertilizers - some as low as 20 mg/kg.

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