Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 2491–2509 | Cite as

Distribution of contaminant trace metals inadvertently provided by phosphorus fertilisers: movement, chemical fractions and mass balances in contrasting acidic soils

  • Mauricio Molina-RocoEmail author
  • Mauricio Escudey
  • Mónica Antilén
  • Nicolás Arancibia-Miranda
  • Karen Manquián-Cerda
Original Paper


The frequent use of phosphorus (P) fertilisers accompanied by nitrogen and potassium sources may lead to a serious long-term environmental issue because of the presence of potentially hazardous trace metals (TM) in P fertilisers and unknown effects on the TM chemical fractions in agricultural soils. A 16-month-long column experiment was conducted to investigate the mobility and chemical forms of Cd, Cu, Cr, Ni, and Zn introduced into a Mollisol and an Andisol through surface incorporation (0–2 cm) of triple superphosphate (TSP) fertiliser. The effects of urea and potassium chloride (KCl) applications were investigated as well. After 15 cycles of 300-mm irrigation, TSP addition increased the 4 M HNO3 extractable TM concentration in the upper (0–5 cm) section of soils. Beyond this depth, metals showed no significant mobility, with minimal leaching losses (< 1.9%, 25-cm depth). The TM chemical forms in the 0–5 cm section were significantly (p < 0.01) affected by the soil type and fertilisers addition. Cadmium, Ni, and Zn were the elements which appeared in a larger proportion (up to 30%) in the most labile fraction (KNO3 extractable) in fertilised soils. The impact of urea depended on the nitrification-related changes in soil pH, while fertilisation with KCl tended to increase the KNO3 fraction of most metals probably due to K+ exchange reactions. Chromium remained minimally affected by the urea and KCl applications since this contaminant is strongly bound to the less labile solid phases. The low mobility of TM was governed mainly by their interaction with the solid phases rather than by their speciation at soil pH. The mass balance showed that the geochemical processes underwent in time by the P fertiliser increased the amount of TM extracted by the chemical fractionation scheme, therefore the reaction period of TSP with soil particles should be taken into account for evaluating TM availability. Long-term soil fertilisation could inadvertently contribute to an increased concentration and availability of these P fertilisers-born contaminants in the cultivated layer of acidic soils.


Sequential extraction Heavy metals Triple superphosphate Soil contamination 



Support from the Chilean Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FONDECYT) Projects Nos. 1070116 and 11110509, the Centre for Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (CEDENNA), University of Santiago of Chile, and the CONICYT PIA/ANILLO ACM170002 are kindly acknowledged. Authors also recognise the analytical support from the Faculty of Chemistry, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (CEQUC). Dr. Mauricio Molina acknowledges a scholarship from the Program for Improvement in Superior Education Quality (MECESUP), Chile (PUC-MECESUP 0210).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Escuela de Agronomía, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad MayorSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Facultad de Química y BiologíaUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.Center for the Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (CEDENNA)SantiagoChile
  4. 4.Facultad de QuímicaPontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC)SantiagoChile

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