Fate of biosolids trace metals in a dryland wheat agroecosystem

Biosolids land application for beneficial reuse applies varying amounts of trace metals to soils. Measuring plant-available or total soil metals is typically performed to ensure environmental protection, but these techniques do not quantify which soil phases play important roles in terms of metal release or attenuation. This study assessed the distribution of Cd, Cr, Cu, Mo, Ni, Pb, and Zn associated with soluble/exchangeable, specifically adsorbed/carbonate-bound, amorphous Mn hydroxyoxide-bound, amorphous Fe hydroxyoxide–bound, organically complexed, and residual inorganic phases. Biosolids were applied every 2 yr from 1982 to 2002 (except in 1998) at rates of 0, 6.7, 13.4, 26.8, and 40.3 dry Mg biosolids ha–1 to 3.6- by 17.1-m plots. In 2003, 0- to 20-cm and 20- to 60-cm soil depths were collected and subjected to 4 mol L–1 HNO3 digestion and sequential extraction. Trace metals were concentrated in the 0- to 20-cm depth, with no significant observable downward movement using 4 mol L–1 HNO3 or sequential extraction. The sequential extraction showed nearly all measurable Cd present in relatively mobile forms and Cr, Cu, Mo, Ni, Pb, and Zn present in more resistant phases. Biosolids application did not affect Cd or Cr fractionation but did increase relatively immobile Cu, Mo, and Zn phases and relatively mobile Cu, Ni, and Pb pools. The mobile phases have not contributed to significant downward metal movement. Long-term, repeated biosolids applications at rates considered several times greater than agronomic levels should not significantly contribute to downward metal transport and ground water contamination for soils under similar climatic conditions, agronomic practices, and histories.

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