Effect of long-term application of biosolids for land reclamation on surface water chemistry.J Environ Qual 2006 Jan-Feb; 35(1):101-13JE
Biosolids are known to have a potential to restore degraded land, but the long-term impacts of this practice on the environment, including water quality, still need to be evaluated. The surface water chemistry (NO3-, NH4+, and total P, Cd, Cu, and Hg) was monitored for 31 yr from 1972 to 2002 in a 6000-ha watershed at Fulton County, Illinois, where the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago was restoring the productivity of strip-mined land using biosolids. The mean cumulative loading rates during the past 31 yr were 875 dry Mg ha(-1) for 1120-ha fields in the biosolids-amended watershed and 4.3 dry Mg ha(-1) for the 670-ha fields in the control watershed. Biosolids were injected into mine spoil fields as liquid fertilizer from 1972 to 1985, and incorporated as dewatered cake from 1980 to 1996 and air-dried solids from 1987 to 2002. The mean annual loadings of nutrients and trace elements from biosolids in 1 ha were 735 kg N, 530 kg P, 4.5 kg Cd, 30.7 kg Cu, and 0.11 kg Hg in the fields of the biosolids-amended watershed, and negligible in the fields of the control watershed. Sampling of surface water was conducted monthly in the 1970s, and three times per year in the 1980s and 1990s. The water samples were collected from 12 reservoirs and 2 creeks receiving drainage from the fields in the control watershed, and 8 reservoirs and 4 creeks associated with the fields in the biosolids-amended watershed for the analysis of NO3- -N (including NO2- N), NH4+-N, and total P, Cd, Cu, and Hg. Compared to the control (0.18 mg L(-1)), surface water NO3- -N in the biosolids-amended watershed (2.23 mg L(-1)) was consistently higher; however, it was still below the Illinois limit of 10 mg L(-1) for public and food-processing water supplies. Biosolids applications had a significant effect on mean concentrations of ammonium N (0.11 mg L(-1) for control and 0.24 mg L(-1) for biosolids) and total P (0.10 mg L(-1) for control and 0.16 mg L(-1) for biosolids) in surface water. Application of biosolids did not increase the concentrations of Cd and Hg in surface water. The elevation of Cu in surface water with biosolids application only occurred in some years of the first decade, when land-applied sludges contained high concentrations of trace metals, including Cu. In fact, following the promulgation of 40 CFR Part 503, the concentrations of all three metals fell below the method detection level (MDL) in surface water for nearly all samplings. Nitrate in the surface water tends to be higher in spring, and ammonium, total P, and total Hg in summer and fall. Mean nitrate, ammonium, and total phosphorus concentrations were found to be greater in creeks than reservoirs. The results indicate that application of biosolids for land reclamation at high loading rates from 1972 to 2002, with adequate runoff and soil erosion control, had only a minor impact on surface water quality.