Farm Owners are liable For Soil Cadmium Remediation Costs

Farm owners are liable for the cost of soil cadmium remediation

There is concern being shown by regulatory bodies regarding the accumulation of cadmium in intensively farmed soils as shown in this extract from a report produced for Environment Waikato.

Cadmium Accumulation in Waikato Soils

Author: Nick Kim

1. An estimated 8.3 tonnes of the heavy metal cadmium is currently applied to Waikato soils each year, with the largest single source being superphosphate fertiliser.

2. There are three means by which existing and foreseeable uses of the productive soil resource may be lost as a result of cadmium accumulation in soils. These are:

1. Future inability to subdivide the land for residential or rural-residential purposes without some form of site assessment and/or remediation
2. Possible market access restrictions for produce
3. Non-compliance with food standards for crops grown on a property because of soil contamination.

3. Based on recent sampling, it is estimated that perhaps 11% of Waikato’s pastoral soils and 17% of Waikato’s horticultural soils already exceed 1 mg/kg soil cadmium.

4. On average, Waikato’s productive pastoral, horticultural and arable surface soils now contain five times more cadmium than they began with, and are two-thirds of the way to the 1 mg/kg threshold.

5. Loading calculations confirm that the dominant source of this cadmium is superphosphate fertiliser, which contains cadmium as an impurity.

6. Overall, ongoing cadmium accumulation has the potential to reduce the range of foreseeable uses of approximately 58% of the Waikato region’s total land area in the short-to-medium term (between 10-60 years depending on land use), covering pastoral agriculture (primarily dairy, beef and sheep farming), arable cropping and horticulture.

In terms of the first and second outcomes, the most readily quantifiable point for soil resource loss is 1 mg/kg for total soil cadmium. This is both the current recommended limit for cadmium in agricultural soils, and a default human health protection limit for Waikato properties being subdivided to residential or rural-residential land. The recommended agricultural soil cadmium limit is set partly with respect to current and anticipated expectations of New Zealand’s international trading partners.

As stated in the report the largest single source is superphosphate.

When considering liability in the event of food produced on the effected land being deemed unfit for consumption or the land deemed no longer fit for human habitation (see above Environment Waikato report) land owners need to be aware that by publishing the following statements on their respective web sites Ballance Agrinutrients and Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-op have, in effect, published a disclaimer.


All Ballance products contain less than 270 g fluorine or 280 mg cadmium

Animal welfare cautions on Fertiliser use:

Flouride and Cadmium Levels All Ravensdown products contain less than 270g flouride and 280mg cadmium per Kg phosphorus.

The common law definition of disclaimer is as follows: DISCLAIMER. This word signifies. to abandon, to renounce.

If the users of these contaminated phosphate products do not challenge Ballance Agrinutrients and Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-op on their phosphate products fitness for purpose given the stated cadmium contamination levels then, in law, the users of the products will be deemed to have accepted the statements and therefore accepted the liability for the contamination of their soils. In law if no attempt is made to refute or rebutt then full acceptance is the outcome. Silence equals agreement.

The cadmium contaminated superphosphate currently being supplied by Ballance Agrinutrients and Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-op is not fit for purpose.

Land users in the Waikato need to read the Environment Waikato report and then closely question Environment Waikato and Ballance Agrinutrients and Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-op regarding the immediate future of their farms as producers of food that is fit for purpose and they need to get advice on where the liability lays.

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