Long-term use of biosolids as organic fertilizers in agricultural soils: potentially toxic elements occurrence and mobility

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The presence of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) may hinder a more widespread application of biosolids in agriculture. At present, the European Directive 86/278/CEE limit the total concentrations of seven metals (Cu, Cr, Ni, Pb, Zn, Cd and Hg) in agricultural soils and in sewage sludges used as fertilizers but it has not taken into consideration the potential impacts of other emerging micropollutants that may be present in the biosolids as well as their mobility. The aim of this study was to evaluate the accumulation and mobility of 13 elements (including regulated metals and other inorganic species) in agricultural soils repeatedly amended with biosolids for 15 years. Firstly, three digestions programs using different acid mixtures were tested to evaluate the most accurate and efficient method for analysis of soil and sludge. Results demonstrated that sewage sludge application increased concentrations of Pb and Hg in soil, but values did not exceed the quality standard established by legislation. In addition, other elements (As, Co, Sb, Ag, Se and Mn) that at present are not regulated by the Spanish and European directives were identified in the sewage sludge, and significant differences were found between Ag content in soils amended with biosolids in comparison with control soils. This fact can be related to the increasing use of silver nanoparticles in consumer products due to their antibacterial properties. Results from the leaching tests show up that, in general, the mobility degree for both regulated and non-regulated elements in soils amended with biosolids was quite low (<10 %) ​
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