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Cadmium levels in Europe: implications for human health

In this study we used the Forum of European Geological Surveys geochemical baseline data to examine the distribution of cadmium (Cd) in Europe, with a particular reference to the international soil and water guideline values. The highest cadmium levels were found to occur in topsoil and to follow closely the distribution of P2O5, suggesting that the contamination was from the use of rock phosphate fertilizer in intensive arable agriculture. In terms of human health impacts, food (up to several hundred μg/day) was found as the only major route of exposure to Cd for the non-smoking general population. It appeared that low levels of chronic exposure to Cd resulted in completely different human health impacts than those high levels that had caused the ‘itai–itai’ disease. Some correlations were suggested between cadmium levels and the age-adjusted prostate or breast cancer rates distributed in the European countries under study.