Biogeochemical response of a northeastern forest ecosystem to biosolids amendments

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Received for publication September 22, 2007. In the northeastern United States interest in the use of biosolids on forest lands is growing due to the prevalence of extensive forests and market incentives for waste disposal, yet much of the regulatory framework for biosolids land application is based on agronomic practice. This study evaluated the response of soils in a young (~20 yr old) deciduous forest to lime-stabilized biosolids amendments focusing on (i) the temporal and spatial evolution of the pH response, (ii) soil exchangeable cation response, (iii) the risk of trace metal accumulations, and (iv) a bioindicator of treatments (i.e., foliar chemistry). Eighteen plots were established in two study phases with lime-stabilized biosolids loading targets of 0 (control), 4.5, 6.7, 13.4, 20.2, 26.9, and 33.6 Mg (megagram) calcium carbonate equivalents (CCE) ha–1, with the lowest target rate of addition representing the current regulated loading limit for forest biosolids applications in Maine. The pH of the O horizon increased immediately >2 pH units, and then declined with time, while B horizon pH increased gradually, taking over 1 yr to achieve ~1.0 pH unit increase at the highest loading target. O-horizon exchangeable Ca concentration increases dominated soil chemical change and resulted in decreases in exchangeable H and Al. Few significant increases in soil trace metal concentrations had occurred at any soil depth after 1 yr of treatment. Foliar response generally reflected changes in soil chemistry, with Ca concentration increases most significant. This research provides critical insights on forest soil response to application of lime-stabilized biosolids and suggests opportunities for higher loading targets in forests should be examined.

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