Section 13
Chapter 12,801

Leaching of heavy metals (Cu, Ni and Zn) and organic matter after sewage sludge application to Mediterranean forest soils

Toribio, M.; Romanyà, J.

Science of the Total Environment 363(1-3): 11-21


ISSN/ISBN: 0048-9697
PMID: 16316678
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.10.004
Accession: 012800959

In Mediterranean dry and semiarid areas, soil organic matter is often depleted due to ancient and intensive human activity. Under these conditions the use of sewage sludge as a land reclamation technique may be a means to revert desertification processes and to enhance soil function and nutrient cycling. However, applications of heavy metal-contaminated sewage sludges can significantly increase potentially toxic metal concentrations in soils and metal transfer to freshwater and plants. The aims of this study are 1) to investigate the leaching of Cu, Zn and Ni from three contrasted Mediterranean forest soils (a basic loam, a basic clay, and an acid loam) treated with sewage sludges and 2) to explore the relationships between metal mobility and soil properties and with the leaching of organic matter. The selected soils were incubated in columns (5 replicatesx3 soilsx3 treatments). Treatments were (a) soil application of low metal content sewage sludge (LMS), (b) soil application of metal-enriched sewage sludge (MES), and (c) control. The sewage sludge application represented a dose of 6 kg dry weight m-2. Soil columns were incubated at room temperature for 110 days and were irrigated weekly with deionised water to make a total of a 1130 mm. Leachates were collected and analysed for pH, EC, organic carbon Cu, Ni and Zn concentrations. The concentration of metals and organic matter in the leachates depended on the soil characteristics and on the type of sewage sludge added to the soil. Basic soils with a high amount of clay showed the highest metal retention capacity, while acid soils with low clay content showed the lowest. Of the three metals studied, Ni exhibited the greatest mobility. Zn mobility was also rather high, particularly in the acid soil. Despite the fact that basic soils showed greater OM content than the acid soil, organic carbon in leachates after sludge addition was of the same order of magnitude in all studied soils. OM mobility may enhance the leaching of metals while the OM bound to soil particles may enhance the retention of metals. The rate of leaching per unit of metal in the soil, for Cu in all soils and for Zn in the basic soils, did not increase even in soils amended with metal-enriched sewage sludge. However, the total amount of Cu, Zn, and Ni leached through the 30 cm columns of the metal-enriched sewage sludge increased in comparison to the control soils. In spite of this fact, metal concentrations were in most cases well below limit for drinking water quality criteria of Spanish legislation. Thus, after one single addition of metal-enriched sewage sludge, for the studied Mediterranean soils, the risk of heavy metal pollution of groundwater appears to be low.

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