Movement of water and heavy metals (Zn, Cu, Pb and Ni) through sand and sandy loam amended with biosolids under steady-state hydrological conditions

L Gove, C M Cooke, F A Nicholson, A J Beck
Bioresource Technology 2001, 78 (2): 171-9
New guidelines for using biosolids in UK agriculture favour the use of enhanced treated biosolids, such as dried and composted cakes, due to concerns about the potential for transfer of pathogens into the food chain. However, there is a need to ensure that their use is environmentally acceptable and does not increase the risk to potable water supplies or the food chain from other contaminants such as heavy metals and xenobiotic organic chemicals. The objective of this study was to determine whether the use of composted and dried mesophilic anaerobically digested dewatered (MADD) biosolids would increase the risk of heavy metal leaching from cultivated horizons when compared to more conventionally used MADD cake. Three biosolids (MADD sewage sludge cake - fresh, dried and composted) were mixed with a sand (typic quartzipsamments, %OM = 3.0, pH = 6.5) or a sandy loam (typic hapludalf, %OM = 4.8, pH = 7.6) at an application rate equivalent to 250 kg N/ha/y resulting in loadings of approximately Zn: 6 microg, Cu: 2 microg, Pb: 5 microg and Ni: 0.2 microg/g of soil dry weight basis. These amended soils were repacked into columns (0.4 m by 0.1 m internal diameter) and leaching of Zn, Cu, Pb and Ni was investigated following application of two 24 h simulated rainfall events of 4.5 mm/h. Water balance data and the use of conservative tracers (Cl- and Br ) showed that the hydrological regimes of each core were comparable and, thus, unlikely to account for differences in metal leaching observed. Although no significant difference (P = 0.05) was observed between biosolid amended and control soils, those amended with composted sludge consistently gave higher loss of all metals than did the control soils. Total losses of metals from compost amended soil over the two rainfall events were in the ranges, Zn:20.5-58.2, Cu:9.0-30.5, Pb:24.2-51.2 and Ni:16.0-39.8 microg metal/kg amended soil, compared with Zn:16.4-41.1, Cu:6.2-25.3, Pb:16.9-41.7, and Ni:3.7-25.4 microg metal/kg soil from the control soils. Losses of Zn, Cu, Pb and Ni from fresh MADD cake amended soils (19.8-41.3, 3.2-25.8, 21.6-51.6 and 7.6-36.5 microg metal/kg amended soil, respectively) and from dry MADD cake amended soils (10.7-36.7, 1.8-23.8, 21.2-51.2 and 6.8-39.2 microg metal/kg amended soil, respectively) were similar to the controls. Generally, quantities of metals leached followed the order Zn = Pb > Cu > Ni, which was consistent with the levels of metals in the original sludge/soil mixtures. These results suggest that composting or drying MADD biosolids is unlikely to increase the risk of groundwater contamination when compared to the use of MADD cake; therefore, the changes in UK sludge use in agriculture guidelines are satisfactory in this respect.

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