Soils chemist wins Piper award for cadmium work

Soils chemist, Paul Milham, received an industry award for the best published original research in the field of soil chemistry.

Mr Milham’s winning research for the biennial CS Piper Award was on the behaviour of cadmium, a naturally occurring toxic heavy metal in soils.

"Plants take up cadmium and high concentrations in some plant products can contribute to osteoporosis and cancer in humans," Mr Milham said.

"It is also proven capable of causing irreversible kidney damage.

"Management of cadmium in diets is difficult, as uptake by plants is poorly predicted by current measurement in soils.

"The distribution of cadmium in soils is poorly understood.

"Its distribution may be uneven and the particles are so small there is no current means of mapping them."

Mr Milham, based at Richmond with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, and his collaborators, including Ross Wenzel from North Sydney and Central Coast Health, and Tim Payne from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), have been developing methods to measure the fraction of cadmium in soils that animals, humans or plants would be exposed to, and map its distribution.

Their aim is to find out how to ameliorate the soils and to minimise both accumulation in plants and people’s exposure.

Cadmium levels in intensively managed agricultural soil are dramatically influenced by fertilisers, sometimes increasing up to 20 fold.

Although the health risks at low levels are largely unquantifiable, scientists and health experts are also watching closely the substantial impact of the proximity of soil to major roads and other industrial activities.

The CS Piper Award is awarded every two years, based on candidates exhibiting sufficient merit, by the Board of The Royal Australian Chemical Institute Inc (RACI).

Mr Milham was announced as the winner at the RACI national awards dinner in Melbourne.

He will receive a medal and an $8000 cash prize.