Claudio Bini, Silvia Fontana, Massimo Spiandorello


Soil is the basis of the ecosystems and of our system of food production. Crops can uptake heavy metals and potentially toxic elements from the soil and store them in the roots or translocate them to the aerial parts. Excessive content of these elements in edible parts can produce toxic effects and, through the food chain and food consumption, result in a potential hazard for human health. In this study soils and plants (spring wheat, Triticum aestivum L. and maize, Zea mays L.) from a tannery district in North-East Italy were analyzed to determine the content of some major and micro-nutrients and potentially toxic elements (Al, Ca, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Ni, P, Pb, S, Zn, V). The soils of the area are moderately polluted; Cr is the most important inorganic contaminant, followed by Ni, Cu and V. Factor analysis evidenced that the contaminants are in part anthropogenic and in part geogenic. Major anthropogenic origin was detected for Cr, Ni (from industrial activities), Zn, Cu, Cd (from agriculture practices). Biological Absorption Coefficient (BAC) from soil to plant roots and Translocation factor (TF) within the plant were calculated; major nutrients (K, P, S) and some micronutrients (Cu, Zn, Mg, Mn) are easily absorbed and translocated, whilst other nutrients (Ca, Fe) and potentially toxic elements or micronutrients (Al, Cd, Cr, Ni, Pb, V) are not accumulated in the seeds of the two considered plants. However, the two edible species proved differently able to absorb and translocate elements, and this suggests to consider separately every species as potential PHEs transporter to the food chain and to humans. Cr concentrations in seeds and other aerial parts (stem and leaves) of the examined plants are higher than the values found for the same species and for other cereals grown on unpolluted soils. Comparing the Cr levels in edible parts with recommended dietary intake, besides other possible Cr sources (dust ingestion, water), there seems to be no health risk for animal breeding and population due to the consumption of wheat and maize grown in the area.


toxic elements; metal translocation; soil contamination; food chain

Full Text:

PDF (English)


ABOLLINO O., MALANDRINO M., GIACOMINO A., MENTASTI E. (2009). Investigation of metal pollution in soils by single and sequential extraction procedures. In: Steinberg R.V. (Ed.) Contaminated soils: Environmental impact, disposal and treatment: 139-180. Nova Science, New York.

Abrahams P.W. (2002). Soils: their implications to human health. The Science of the Total Environment 291:1-32.

ADRIANO D.C. (2001) Trace Elements in Terrestrial Environments. Biogeochemistry, Bioavailability, and Risks of Metals. Springer, New York. 967 pp.

ARPAV (2011) Metalli e metalloidi nei suoli del Veneto – Determinazione dei valori di fondo. Regione del Veneto, 188 pp.

BI X., FENG X., YANG Y., LI X., SHIN G.P.Y., LI F., QIU G., LI G., LIU T., FU Z. (2009) Allocation and source attribution of lead and cadmium in maize (Zea mays L.) impacted by smelting emissions. Environmental Pollution 157: 834-839.

BINI C., MALECI L., ROMANIN A. (2008). The chromium issue in soils of the leather tannery district in Italy. Journal of Geochemical Exploration 96: 194-202.

BINI C., MALECI L., ZILOCCHI L. (2001) Chromium accumulation and mobility in soils and plants of a tanning industrial area in NE Italy. Proc. VI Int. Conf. Biogeoch. Trace Elements, 79, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

CUI Y.J., ZHU Y.G., ZHAI R.H., CHEN D.Y., HUANG Y.Z., QIU Y., LIANG J.Z. (2004). Transfer of metals from soil to vegetables in an area near a smelter in Nanning, China. Environment International 30: 785-791.

DECRETO LEGISLATIVO 152/2006 Gazzetta Ufficiale n.88 del 14/04/2006 – S.O. n.96.

EC – European Commission, Scientific Committee on Food (2003). Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on the tolerable upper intake level of trivalent chromium.

HUANG M., ZHOU S., SUN B., ZHAO Q. (2008). Heavy metals in wheat grain: assessment of potential health risk for inhabitants in Kunshan, China. Science of the Total Environment 405: 54-61.

KABATA-PENDIAS A. (2011). Trace elements in soils and plants. 4th edition. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 505 pp.

KABATA-PENDIAS A., MUKHERJEE A.B. (2007). Trace elements from soil to humans. Springer, Berlin, 550 pp.

LAVADO R.S., PORCELLI C.A., ALVAREZ R. (2001). Nutrient and heavy metal concentration and distribution in corn, soybean and wheat as affected by different tillage systems in the Argentine Pampas. Soil & Tillage Research 62: 55-60.

MALIK R. N., HUSAIN S. Z., NAZIR I. (2010). Heavy metal contamination and accumulation in soil and wild plant species from industrial area of Islamabad, Pakistan. Journal of Botany 42:291-301.

MARCHIOL L., FELLET G., PEROSA D., ZACCHEO P., ZERBI G. (2008).Utilizzo di piante agrarie nel fitorisanamento di suoli contaminati da metalli pesanti e metalloidi: (II) primi risultati della sperimentazione in situ di Torviscosa (Udine). Rivista di Agronomia, 1:15-29.

MCLAUGHLIN M.J., PARKER D.R., CLARKE J.M. (1999). Metals and micronutrients – food safety issues. Field Crops Research 60:143-163.

MIPAF (2000). Metodi di analisi chimica del suolo. Franco Angeli, Milano.

PERALTA-VIDEA J.R., LOPEZ M.L., NARAYAN M., SAUPE G., GARDEA-TORRESDEY J. (2009). The biochemistry of environmental heavy metal uptake by plants: implications for the food chain. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 41:1665-1677.

RODRIGUES S.M., HENRIQUES B., FERREIRA DA SILVA E., PEREIRA M.E., DUARTE A.C., GROENENBERG J.E., RÖMKENS P.F.A.M. (2010). Evaluation of an approach for the characterization of reactive and available pools of 20 potentially toxic elements in soils: Part I – The role of key soil properties in the variation of contaminants’ reactivity. Chemosphere 81:1549-1559.

SANTOPRETE G. (1997). Total chromium content in foodstuffs and evaluation of the average amount of chromium uptake. In: Canali S., Tittarelli F., Sequi P. (Ed.) Chromium environmental issues: 153-179. Franco Angeli Editore, Milano.

STEINNES E. (2009). Soils and geomedicine. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 31:523-535.

UNGARO F., RAGAZZI F., CAPPELLIN R., GIANDON P. (2008). Arsenic concentration in the soils of the Brenta Plain (Northern Italy): mapping the probability of exceeding contamination thresholds. Journal of Geochemical Exploration 96:117-131.

UNTERBRUNNER R., PUSCHENREITER M., SOMMER P., WIESHAMMER G., TLUSTOŠ P., ZUPAN M., WENZEL W.W. (2007). Heavy metal accumulation in trees growing on contaminated sites in Central Europe. Environmental Pollution 148:107-114.

ZHENG N., WANG Q., ZHANG X., ZHENG D., ZHANG Z., ZHANG S. (2007). Population health risk due to dietary intake of heavy metals in the industrial area of Huludao city, China. Science of the Total Environment 387:96-104.

ZHU Y., YU H., WANG J., FANG W., YUAN J., YANG Z. (2007). Heavy metal accumulation of 24 asparagus bean cultivars grown in soil contaminated with Cd alone and with multiple metals (Cd, Pb, and Zn). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55:1045-1052.

DOI: 10.6092/issn.2281-4485/3930


  • There are currently no refbacks.
This website uses only proprietary and third party technical cookies to ensure the correct operation of its web pages and to improve its services. If you wish to find out more, or deny your consent, consult the privacy policy. By continuing to navigate the website, or by clicking on "close", you consent to the use of the cookies.

Creative Commons License

Online ISSN 2281-4485

The journal is hosted and mantained by ASDD-AlmaDL. [privacy]