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Water-Extractable Phosphorus in Biosolids: Implications for Land-Based Recycling

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Phosphorus-based nutrient management will inevitably be required for land application of biosolids. Water-extractable phosphorus (WEP) in livestock manures is an indicator of phosphorus loss from agricultural watersheds and this study evaluated its use for biosolids. The WEP to total phosphorus percentage (PWEP) in 41 biosolids (representing a variety of wastewater and solids treatment processes) was compared to dairy and poultry manures and triple superphosphate fertilizer. The mean PWEP for conventionally treated and stabilized biosolids was 2.4%, which was significantly lower than inorganic fertilizer (85%), dairy manure (52%), and poultry manure (21%). Low biosolids PWEP is attributed to elevated aluminum and iron content from chemical additions during wastewater treatment and solids dewatering operations. Facilities using biological phosphorus removal had the highest mean biosolids PWEP (∼ 14%), whereas heat-dried biosolids had the lowest average PWEP (< ∼ 0.5%). Paired samples of digested cake and the corresponding biosolids treated by processes to further reduce pathogens (i.e., thermal treatment, composting, and advanced alkaline stabilization) showed that these processes tended to reduce biosolids PWEP. Biosolids composition and processing mode exert a controlling influence on the potential for off-site phosphorus migration at land-application sites. Nutrient management policies for land-based recycling should account for the widely varying potential of organic amendments to cause soluble phosphorus losses in runoff and leaching.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2004

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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