Dr. John V. Lagerwerff, 56, a soil scientist with the Agricultural Research Center at Beltsville, died of cancer Monday at Prince George's General Hospital.

He had been with the center, where he investigated the environmental consequences of pollution of soils and waters by heavy metals, since 1965. He had taken a sabbatical last year to work at the Macauley Institute for Soil Research in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Born in The Netherlands, Dr. Lagerwerff received a master's degree in tropical agriculture from the State Agricultural University at Wageningen in 1947.

He played a role in the Student Resistance Movement and was an officer in the Dutch underground armed forces during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II.

After the war, Dr. Lagerwerff came to this country on a student visa under a Coolidge Foundation Fellowship and earned a master's degree in soil science from the University of Missouri in 1948.

He returned to Holland and then immigrated to this country a year later. He was a research scientist with the Imperial Agricultural Corp. in Hartford, Conn.

In 1953, he entered Cornell University and received a doctorate three years later. At that time, he joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was a soil scientist at the Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif., until coming here in 1965.

He is survived by his wife, Meta Lagerwerff, and a son, Mark, both of Lanham, and a daughter, Carmen Lagerwerff, of Sharon, Vt.