Cobalt and secondary poisoning in the terrestrial food chain: data review and research gaps to support risk assessment

Environ Int. 2008 Aug;34(6):821-38. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2007.10.006. Epub 2007 Dec 3.


Cobalt is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, soil, water, plants, and animals and has diverse industrial importance. It is cycled in surface environments through many natural processes (e.g. volcanic eruptions, weathering) and can be introduced through numerous anthropogenic activities (e.g. burning of coal or oil, or the production of cobalt alloys). The environmental behaviour of cobalt in terrestrial environment is relatively poorly studied and in particular where Co is used in industrial processes, the baseline information to support wider and long-term environmental impacts is widely dispersed. To support the adoption of new EU regulations on the risk assessment of chemicals, we review here the various aspects of the environmental chemistry, fate and transport of Co across environmental interfaces and discuss the toxicology and potential for bio magnification and food chain accumulation. The soil-to-plant transfer of Co appears to be viable route to expose lower trophic levels to biologically significant concentrations and Co is potentially accumulated in biomass and top soil. Evidence for further accumulation through soil-invertebrate transfer and to higher trophic levels is suggested by some studies but this is obscured by the relatively high variability of published transfer data. This variation is not due to one particular aspect of the transfer of Co in terrestrial environments. Influences are from the variability of geological sources within soil systems; the sensitivity of Co mobility to environmental factors (e.g. pH) and the variety of life strategies for metal elimination/use within biological species. Toxic effects of Co have been suggested for some soil-plant animal studies however, uncertainty in the extrapolation from laboratory to field is a major limitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cobalt / pharmacokinetics
  • Cobalt / toxicity*
  • Diet
  • Food Chain*
  • Humans
  • Invertebrates / drug effects
  • Invertebrates / metabolism
  • Plants / drug effects
  • Plants / toxicity
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Cobalt