Factors affecting the concentrations of lead in British wheat and barley grain

F. J. Zhao*, M. L. Adams, C. Dumont, S. P. McGrath, A. M. Chaudri, F. A. Nicholson, B. J. Chambers, A. H. Sinclair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


The entry of Pb into the food chain is of concern as it can cause chronic health problems. The concentration of Pb was determined in cereal grain samples collected representatively from British Cereal Quality Surveys in 1982 and 1998 (n=176, 250 and 233 for wheat collected in 1982 and 1998, and barley in 1998, respectively). In addition, paired soil and grain samples were collected from 377 sites harvested across Britain in 1998-2000. Wheat grain Pb ranged from below the analytical detection limit (0.02mgkg-1 dry weight, DW) to 1.63mgkg-1 DW, and barley grain Pb from <0.02 to 0.48mgkg -1 DW. The vast majority of samples (>99% for both wheat and barley, excluding Scottish barley samples collected in 2000) were well below the newly introduced EU limit for the maximum permissible concentration of Pb in cereals (0.2mgkg-1 fresh weight, equivalent to 0.235mgkg-1 DW). There was a significant reduction in wheat grain Pb in the 1998 survey compared with the 1982 survey. However, 40 barley samples collected from Scotland in 2000 in the paired soil and crop survey showed anomalously high concentrations of Pb, with 10 samples exceeding the EU limit. Washing experiments demonstrated that surface contamination, introduced during grain harvest and/or storage, was the main reason for the high concentrations in these samples. In the paired soil and crop surveys, there were no significant correlations between grain Pb concentrations with total soil Pb and other soil properties, indicating low bioavailability of Pb in the soils and limited uptake and transport of Pb to grain. The Pb in cereal grain is likely to originate mainly from atmospheric deposition and other routes of surface contamination during harvest and storage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-468
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number3
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Oct 2004


  • Barley
  • Cadmium
  • Food contamination
  • Lead
  • Regulations
  • Wheat


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