Distributions of rare earths and heavy metals in field-grown maize after application of rare earth-containing fertilizer

Xingkai Xu*, Wangzhao Zhu, Zijian Wang, Geert Jan Witkamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Rare earths are widely applied in Chinese agriculture to improve crop nutrition through the use of fertilizers, yet little is known of their accumulation in field-grown crops. We have studied the distribution of 16 rare earths (Sc, Y and 14 lanthanide elements) in field-grown maize and the concentration of heavy metals in the grains after application of rare earth-containing fertilizer. When maize entered the vigorous vegetation growth stage (e.g. early stem-elongation stage), rare earth-containing fertilizer was applied to the soil with irrigation water. At 10 days after application of the rare earths, significantly dose-dependent accumulative effects of individual rare earth concentrations in the roots and the plant tops of maize were observed, with the exception of Sc and Lu. At the level of 2 kg rare earths ha-1, accumulative concentrations of most light rare earths (e.g. La, Ce, Pr and Nd) and Gd in the plant tops were much larger than those in the control. Concentrations of individual rare earths in a field-grown maize after application of rare earths decreased in the order of root≫leaf>stem>grain. During the maize growth period, selective accumulation of individual rare earths (e.g. La, Ce) in the roots seemed to be in dynamic equilibrium, and the distribution of these elements in the plant tops was variable. At a dosage of less than 10 kg rare earths ha-1, no apparent accumulative concentrations of individual rare earths appeared in the maize grains. Under the experimental conditions, application of rare earth-containing fertilizer did not induce an increase in the concentrations of heavy metals in the grains. We conclude that the present dosage of rare earths (<0.23 kg ha-1 year-1) currently applied in China can hardly affect the safety of maize grains in arable soil, even over a long period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Dose-dependent accumulation
  • Heavy metals
  • Maize
  • Rare earth-containing fertilizer
  • Rare earths

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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