Biosolids-amended soils: Part I. Effect of biosolids application on soil quality and ecotoxicity

Katherine Banks, Paul Schwab, Naressa Cofield, James Alleman, Michael Switzenbaum, Jill Shalabi, Phillip Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Investigations of potential risk from biosolids generally indicate that land application does not threaten human or ecosystem health, but questions continue to arise concerning the environmental effects of this practice. This research project was initiated to evaluate ecotoxicity resulting from the amendment of soils with biosolids from municipal wastewater treatment plants. Toxicity was evaluated using standard tests, including earthworm mortality, growth, and reproduction; seedling germination and root elongation; microbial respiration; and nematode mortality and reproduction. Nineteen municipal wastewater treatment plants were identified to participate in an initial screening of toxicity, and five were chosen for a more detailed evaluation. In addition, two soils with historically high applications of high-metal biosolids were evaluated. Contaminants examined were zinc, copper, nickel, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Single applications had no effect on soil metal concentrations. Coplanar PCBs were not detectable in any of the soils or biosolids. All target organisms were sensitive to reference toxicants. Limited toxicity was observed in a small number of the amended soils, but no patterns emerged. Approximately one-half of the negative effects of biosolids on bioindicators could be attributed to routine properties, such as slight depression of pH and/or elevated salinity. None of the accumulated metal concentrations were excessive, and most would not be considered elevated. These observations suggest that current regulations for application of biosolids to soils are providing adequate ecosystem protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2217-2230
Number of pages14
JournalWater Environment Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Biosolids
  • Ecotoxicity
  • Heavy metals
  • Land application
  • Sludge
  • Soil
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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