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Land application of biosolids as a fertilizer amendment to agricultural land is a controversial issue despite the long history of the practice. Public concerns surrounding biosolids application include potential pollution of soils, crop tissue and groundwater by excess nutrients and trace elements that are present in biosolids. This 3-year study was designed to assess the effects of long-term biosolids application on the quality of soils and crop tissue in Pennsylvania. This study is unique in that these effects were assessed at actual agricultural biosolids application sites, rather than at highly controlled research plots. Soil and crop tissue samples were collected in the fall of each year, from 18 farms throughout the state and tested for nutrients, trace elements and other soil quality parameters. Soil samples were collected from depth increments of 1-10, 10-20, and 20-40 cm, and crop tissue samples were collected from the same locations as the soil samples. Within each farm, soil and crop tissue parameters from a field that had received biosolids (treated) were compared with those from a field that never received biosolids (control). The paired fields within each farm (treated and control) had similar soil type and similarcropping histories, so that the primary difference between members of a pair was the application of biosolids. For each parameter measured, the average of all within farm differences wascompared to variability across all farms to determine statistical significance of that parameter. This was done for each year individually and for combined analysis of all 3 years of the study.Soil pH, cation exchange capacity, and organic C were similar in treated and control fields. The combined 3-year analysis showed that soil concentrations of Cu, Cr, Hg, Mo, Mn, Pb and Zn were higher in the treated fields than the control fields. These differences, while statistically significant, were small (<5% of CPLR) when compared to the EPA Part 503 cumulative pollutant loading rates for the elements, indicating the differences are too small to be associated with significant risk to crops, humans or animals. These results also indicate the current requirements for biosolids analysis and calculating trace element cumulative loading is adequately tracking trace element accumulation in soils. There was evidence that biosolids treated fields had more post-growing season soil NO3 and P, and less soil K than control fields. This indicates a need to reassess and improve biosolids nutrient management. There were no significant differences in the concentrations of any nutrients or trace elements in crop tissue grown on treated or control fields at any time during the study.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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