- Mineralogy, precipitation and weathering influence background soil fluoride.
- Geochemical regression tree models can predict background fluoride in soil.
- Fluoride in subsurface soils exceeded recommended ecological risk thresholds.
- Phosphate fertiliser indicated to be a potential source of added fluoride to soils.
Excess exposure to fluoride causes substantive health burden in humans and livestock globally. However, few studies have assessed the distribution and controls of variability of ambient background concentrations of fluoride in soil. Ambient background concentrations of fluoride in soil were collated for Greater Melbourne, Greater Geelong, Ballarat and Mitchell in Victoria, Australia (n?=?1005). Correlation analysis and machine learning techniques were used to identify environmental and anthropogenic influences of fluoride variability in soil. Sub-soils (>0.3?m deep), in some areas overlying siltstone and sandstone, and to a lesser extent, overlying basalt, were naturally enriched with fluoride at concentrations above ecological thresholds for grazing animals. Soil fluoride enrichment was predominantly influenced by parent material (mineralogy), precipitation (illuviation), leaching during palaeoclimates and marine inputs. Industrial air pollution did not significantly influence ambient background concentrations of fluoride at a regional scale. However, agricultural practices (potentially the use of phosphate fertilisers) were indicated to have resulted in added fluoride to surface soils overlying sediments. Geospatial variables alone were not sufficient to accurately model ambient background soil fluoride concentrations. A multiple regression model based on soil chemistry and parent material was shown to accurately predict ambient background fluoride concentrations in soils and support assessment of fluoride enrichment in the environment.