Current European Union legislation will increase the level of disposal of sewage sludge to agricultural land in the next 10 years. This increase may lead to an increase in ingestion, by grazing animals, of herbage with elevated levels of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) derived from sludge adhered to the herbage or sewage sludge-amended soil resulting in the accumulation of PTEs in body tissues, especially the liver and kidney. To assess the possible accumulation of PTEs from soils treated historically with sewage sludge, eight groups of housed weaned lambs were given either dried grass as a sole food (grass control), or diets comprising dried grass (0·9 of total diet dry matter (DM)) and soil (0·1 of total diet DM) from two experimental sites, plots within which had been treated 14 years previously with different quantities of sewage sludge. Soils from the two sites (Cassington and Royston) had contrasting physical characteristics, pH and contents of calcium. The soil from the site at Cassington was slightly acidic (pH 6·0) and had a concentration of calcium of 7·92 g/kg DM whereas the soil from the site at Royston was alkaline (pH 8·0) and had a high concentration of calcium (23·5 g/kg DM). Plots at each site had a range of concentrations of cadmium (Cd) in the soil up to three times the United Kingdom (UK) statutory limit of 3 mg Cd per kg DM. The soils from these two sites were designated control — no amendment with sewage sludge (0·69 mg Cd per kg DM), low (3·55 mg Cd per kg DM), medium (6·63 mg Cd per kg DM) and high (8·82 mg Cd per kg DM; Cassington soil only). Voluntary DM intake of diets by weaned lambs (mean 1436 glday) was not affected significantly by any dietary treatment. The concentrations of Cd in liver increased (P < 0·001) from 0·061 and 0·072 mg/kg DM (Royston and Cassington control, respectively) to 0·218 and 0·403 mg/kg DM (Royston and Cassington medium, respectively) and 0·500 mg/kg DM (Cassington high). The concentrations of Pb in liver increased (P < 0·001) from 0·733 and 0·627 mg/kg DM (Royston and Cassington control, respectively) to 118 and 1·25 mg/kg DM (Royston and Cassington medium, respectively) and 1·18 mg/kg DM (Cassington high). Similar changes were observed for concentrations of Cd and Pb in kidney. A depletion of the concentration of Cu in the liver was observed in all treatments containing soil in the diet. The rate of accumulation of Cd in the liver ranged from 0 to 0·35 μg/g daily tissue DM growth and in the kidney ranged from 0 to 0·44 μg/g daily tissue DM growth. The rate of accumulation of Pb in the liver ranged from 0 to 6·01 μg/g daily tissue DM growth and in the kidney ranged from 0 to 0·63 μg/g daily tissue DM growth. No significant accumulation of PTEs was observed in muscle tissue. It is concluded that the current UK statutory limits for the concentrations ofCd and Pb in soils treated with sewage sludge should be reviewed in the light of these results, though they require confirmation in the grazing situation.