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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Heavy Metals in the Environment

Trace Metal Leaching through a Soil–Grassland System after Sewage Sludge Application


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 31 No. 5, p. 1550-1560
    Received: July 5, 2001

    * Corresponding author(s): catherine.keller@epfl.ch
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  1. C. Keller *a,
  2. S. P. McGrathb and
  3. S. J. Dunhamb
  1. a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), ENAC-ISTE-LPE, Ecublens, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
    b Agriculture and Environment Division, IACR-Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts AL5 2JQ, UK


To determine whether sludge applications to soil would lead in the short term to toxicity to plants and trace metal leaching to ground water, we studied the fate of some trace and major elements in a brown soil–meadow system just after repeated sewage sludge applications. The main pathways were quantified over a 37-mo period with undisturbed monolith lysimeters including two controls, four lysimeters treated with 3 × 100 m3 ha−1, and four with 3 × 400 m3 ha−1 of sewage sludge. In drainage waters the effect was limited in time and, in the case of NO3–N and Cl, delayed by 1 to 4 mo and lasted several months before returning to background conditions. Nickel and Cu concentrations in solution increased also after sludge application and had not return to background conditions after 20 mo. Trace metal concentrations did not reach toxic levels in herbage and N, Cu, Cd, and Zn concentrations were correlated with the first sludge input only. Calculated over a 37-mo period, total element output was significantly increased for Ca, NO3–N, and Ni only, because of the time-dependent response to sludge application and high variability between replicates. Output was maximal for Cd, with 1.5% of total input for the 100 m3 ha−1 treatment. Particulate matter in drainage water accounted for an average of 20% of trace metal leaching. The main long-term risk was the rapid increase in trace metal concentrations in the topsoil, which may eventually lead to toxic levels in herbage.

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Copyright © 2002. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.31:1550–1560.