PCDD/F and dioxin-like PCB profiles in soils amended with sewage sludge, compost, farmyard manure, and mineral fertilizer since 1962
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Background, aim, and scope
Biowaste contains compounds of agricultural value such as organic carbon, nutrients, and trace elements and can partially replace mineral fertilizer (MIN) and improve the physical properties of the soil. However, the obvious benefits of land spreading need to be carefully evaluated against potential adverse effects on the environment and human health. Environmental contamination resulting from biowaste application is one of the key variables when assessing cost/benefits. This study provides data on the resulting concentration of polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (DL-PCBs) in the soil column as a result of the different types of fertilizers.
Materials and methods
In a long-term field experiment established in 1962, we investigated the influence of the application of biowaste-derived fertilizers such as sewage sludge (SSL), compost (COM), and farmyard manure (FYM) to a luvisol derived from loess on the contents of PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs. Control plots amended only with MIN served as a basis to compare the biowaste-amended soils with soils affected only by atmospheric deposition, thus experimentally separating the two pathways of soil contamination. Samples of the soil column down to a depth of 90 cm were taken in 2001 and analyzed for PCDD/Fs and dioxin-like PCBs according to US-EPA methods 1613 and 1668, respectively.
Thirty-nine years of experimental SSL and COM applications exceeding four times the maximal amount as laid down in German legislation resulted in a doubling of the international toxicity equivalent (I-TEQ) budget for PCDD/Fs and a threefold increase for DL-PCBs as compared to test plots amended with MIN only. As compared to MIN, the application of FYM had no effect on the PCDD/F and PCB content in soil. The average contribution of the DL-PCBs to the WHO-TEQ was 19% in the MIN and FYM plots and somewhat higher in the COM (23%) and in the SSL (27%) plots.
Although the test plots received four times the maximum application of SSL as laid down in the German SSL ordinance and the investigated region represents the upper end of the topsoil concentrations typically found in Germany, the soils treated with SSL and COM were still a factor of 4 below the German guideline value of PCDD/Fs for arable land. No enhancement of translocation of PCDD/Fs and PCBs into the corresponding subsoils due to the presence of dissolved humic matter or other surfactants potentially present in the biowaste was observed. The similarity of congener patterns in all soils, irrespective of the type of fertilizer applied, points towards atmospheric deposition of PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs as the main intake route in the soils. The higher levels in the SSL- and COM-amended soils can be explained by the fact that both biowastes are subject to atmospheric deposition occurring at their origin. In the case of COM, it is accumulation in the foliage, while in the case of SSL, atmospheric particulate from wet and dry deposition is collected in the wastewater treatment system via urban runoff.
It appears that the common practice of SSL applications in Germany does not pose a current threat to the agro-environment with regard to PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs. However, time trend data on PCDD/Fs in SSL-amended soils will be needed to obtain a prognosis about the long-term effect of biowaste applications on soil quality.