Cryptic footprints of rare earth elements on natural resources and living organisms

Muhammad Adeel, Jie Yinn Lee, Muhammad Zain, Muhammad Rizwan, Aamir Nawab, M. A. Ahmad, Muhammad Shafiq, Hao Yi, Ghulam Jilani, Rabia Javed, R. Horton, Yukui Rui, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Baoshan Xing

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Rare earth elements (REEs)are gaining attention due to rapid rise of modern industries and technological developments in their usage and residual fingerprinting. Cryptic entry of REEs in the natural resources and environment is significant; therefore, life on earth is prone to their nasty effects. Scientific sectors have expressed concerns over the entry of REEs into food chains, which ultimately influences their intake and metabolism in the living organisms. Objectives: Extensive scientific collections and intensive look in to the latest explorations agglomerated in this document aim to depict the distribution of REEs in soil, sediments, surface waters and groundwater possibly around the globe. Furthermore, it draws attention towards potential risks of intensive industrialization and modern agriculture to the exposure of REEs, and their effects on living organisms. It also draws links of REEs usage and their footprints in natural resources with the major food chains involving plants, animals and humans. Methods: Scientific literature preferably spanning over the last five years was obtained online from the MEDLINE and other sources publishing the latest studies on REEs distribution, properties, usage, cycling and intrusion in the environment and food-chains. Distribution of REEs in agricultural soils, sediments, surface and ground water was drawn on the global map, together with transport pathways of REEs and their cycling in the natural resources. Results: Fourteen REEs (Ce, Dy, Er, Eu, Gd, Ho, La, Lu, Nd, Pr, Sm, Tb, Th and Yb)were plighted in this study. Wide range of their concentrations has been detected in agricultural soils (<15.9–249.1 μg g−1)and in groundwater (<3.1–146.2 μg L−1)at various sites worldwide. They have strong tendency to accumulate in the human body, and thus associated with kidney stones. The REEs could also perturb the animal physiology, especially affecting the reproductive development in both terrestrial and aquatic animals. In plants, REEs might affect the germination, root and shoot development and flowering at concentration ranging from 0.4 to 150 mg kg−1. Conclusions: This review article precisely narrates the current status, sources, and potential effects of REEs on plants, animals, humans health. There are also a few examples where REEs have been used to benefit human health. However, still there is scarce information about threshold levels of REEs in the soil, aquatic, and terrestrial resources as well as living entities. Therefore, an aggressive effort is required for global action to generate more data on REEs. This implies we prescribe an urgent need for inter-disciplinary studies about REEs in order to identify their toxic effects on both ecosystems and organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)785-800
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironment international
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Antioxidant enzymes
  • Aquatic animals
  • Bioavailability
  • Human health
  • Potential risks
  • Threshold level
  • Toxic metals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)

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