Bioassays prove the suitability of mining debris mixed with sewage sludge for land reclamation purposes
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Background, aim, and scope
Mining activities disturb land and reduce its capacity to support a complete functional ecosystem. Reclamation activities in this case are not easy due to the large amount of soil required. This is why mining debris are usually used as surrogate of soil, despite their unsuitable physicochemical properties. However, these properties can be improved with the amendment using an organic source, usually sewage sludge. Nevertheless, the use of sludge might lead to impacts on soil and water ecosystems because of its physicochemical properties and pollutant content. The aim of this study is to assess the suitability of the use of mining debris amended with sewage sludge as practice for the reclamation of land degraded by limestone-quarrying activities.
Materials and methods
Two different types of mining debris from the same limestone quarry and six different types of composted or thermally dried sewage sludge were studied. A laboratory assessment was carried out by means of standardized bioassays of sludges, together with a field assessment carried out in lysimeters filled with debris–sludge mixtures. The field assessment was carried out using both the soil–waste mixtures, amended with dosages similar to those used for restoration purposes and their corresponding leachates. The variation of physicochemical properties and the outcomes of different bioassays (soil microorganisms biomass and respiration, enzymatic activities, plant emergence and growth, collembolan survival and reproduction, and the Microtox assay) were used as indicators of fertilizing or ecotoxicological effects.
The mining debris used in our study showed a poor capacity for biological recovery, as shown by the lower biological outcomes measured in control lysimeters compared to lysimeters amended with sludge. The addition of sludge improved debris just before the sludge application in terms of its physicochemical and biological properties (microorganism’s biomass, respiration and enzymatic activities) which, in some cases, persisted after a year. Conversely, in some sludges, an inhibition in soil collembolans was observed just before the amendment, but any inhibitory effect disappeared after a year. Concerning the leachates obtained from field lysimeters after a week and a year, no inhibitory effects were detectable for aquatic bacteria.
The effects observed on some of the measured biological endpoints, both in laboratory and field assays, were mainly mediated by physicochemical parameters related to a low stability of organic matter, but in the opposite sense depending on the organism considered. Microbial parameters were enhanced when the organic matter added had a low stability (high content in labile organic matter) but, on the other hand, collembolan performance was negatively affected. The lack of toxicity of leachates indicates a low risk for groundwaters of this reclamation practice.
The results of this study support the use of mining debris mixed with sludge for land reclamation of degraded land by quarrying. The addition of sludge allowed a quick plant cover re-establishment and provided a suitable habitat for soil biota because no long-term ecotoxicological risks were observed neither for soils nor groundwaters. The results also indicate that the environmental risk of sludges might be reduced using sludges with a high content in stable organic matter.
Recommendations and perspectives
The use of mining debris mixed with sewage sludges for mining reclamation purposes is suitable since long-term ecotoxicological risks were not observed. In addition, the results support the suitability of bioassays for the prediction of the success or risk of specific land reclamation practices in order to avoid unsuccessful attempts.
KeywordsEcotoxicity tests Land reclamation Quarrying Sewage sludge Soil microorganisms Soil fauna
This study has been funded by the RESMINLOD project, co-funded by the Spanish Ministry of Environment (MMA) and the Water Agency of the Catalonia Government (ACA). We also thank the Institut Químic de Sarria (IQS) for carrying out the analysis of organic pollutants and the Microtox assay.
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