Long-term effects of land application of class B biosolids on the soil microbial populations, pathogens, and activity

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Received for publication August 7, 2009. This study evaluated the influence of 20 annual land applications of Class B biosolids on the soil microbial community. The potential benefits and hazards of land application were evaluated by analysis of surface soil samples collected following the 20th land application of biosolids. The study was initiated in 1986 at the University of Arizona Marana Agricultural Center, 21 miles north of Tucson, AZ. The final application of biosolids was in March 2005, followed by growth of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) from April through November 2005. Surface soil samples (0–30 cm) were collected monthly from March 2005, 2 wk after the final biosolids application, through December 2005, and analyzed for soil microbial numbers. December samples were analyzed for additional soil microbial properties. Data show that land application of Class B biosolids had no significant long-term effect on indigenous soil microbial numbers including bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi compared to unamended control plots. Importantly, no bacterial or viral pathogens were detected in soil samples collected from biosolid amended plots in December (10 mo after the last land application) demonstrating that pathogens introduced via Class B biosolids only survived in soil transiently. However, plots that received biosolids had significantly higher microbial activity or potential for microbial transformations, including nitrification, sulfur oxidation, and dehydrogenase activity, than control plots and plots receiving inorganic fertilizers. Overall, the 20 annual land applications showed no long-term adverse effects, and therefore, this study documents that land application of biosolids at this particular site was sustainable throughout the 20-yr period, with respect to soil microbial properties.

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