Review of Potentially Toxic Rare Earth Elements, Thallium and Tellurium in Plant‐based Foods

Rare Earth Element, thallium, tellurium, plant‐based food, toxicity, trace element
First published in the EFSA Journal
26 novembre 2020
7 settembre 2020
Special Issue


In the last decades, there is an increasing inclusion of various trace metals and metalloids such as thallium, tellurium and rare earth elements (REEs; lanthanides, scandium, and yttrium) in the composition and production of alloys, in agricultural and medicinal applications, as well as in the manufacturing of hi‐tech products. All these activities have led to an accumulation of the aforementioned elements both in soil and water bodies and consequently in the food chain, through discharges from mining and mineral processing, liquid industrial waste or disposal of urban and industrial products. It has been demonstrated that chronic exposure to some of these elements, even at low doses, might lead to a wide range of adverse health effects, even from the early stages of life, such as neurotoxicity, neurodevelopmental toxicity and hepatic alterations. Particularly in children, there have been studies suggesting that some of these elements might negatively affect the children's spatial learning and memory ability indirectly. Such effects are triggered by processes like the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), lipid peroxidation and modulation of antioxidant activities. Nevertheless, the limited data from toxicological studies and their so‐far naturally low occurrence levels in the environment acted as a deterrent in measuring their concentrations during routine analyses of metals in foodstuff. Thus, it is important to collect information on their occurrence data both in adults and in children's daily diet. This review sumrises the current knowledge on the concentration of these elements, in plant‐based food products to identify whether a potential health risk occurs. As side projects, this Fellowship provided hands‐on training on the evaluation of new biocides application and participation in the given advice to the Danish Food and Veterinary Administration, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, the Danish Medical Agency and the European Chemicals Agency.

eu-fora [at]
EFSA Journal 2020;18():e181101