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Effect of biosolid-derived dissolved organic matter on orthophosphate sorption to soils depends on clay mineralogy and solution composition

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Dissolved organic matter (DOM) from biosolids can alter the sorption of orthophosphate (inorganic phosphorus (IP)) to soils and, therefore, affect the bioavailability of IP. It is not clear how clay mineralogy and solution composition interfere with DOM effects on IP sorption by soils. Hence, we studied the effect of DOM on IP sorption to five semi-arid soils dominated by either illite/smectite (I/S) or kaolinite clays. IP sorption isotherms were constructed in either NaCl or CaCl2 background solution, with and without the addition of DOM. The IP sorption capacity maxima (SMAX, Langmuir model) of the I/S soils were 33–102% higher in the presence of CaCl2, as compared to NaCl. Although DOM had no effect on the IP-SMAX in the presence of CaCl2, it increased the IP-SMAX by 35–59% in the presence of the NaCl solution. Surprisingly, DOM sorption to the I/S soils was 30–90% greater in the presence of a Na+-dominated solution, as compared to a Ca2+-dominated solution. In contrast to the I/S soils, the SMAX of the kaolinitic soil was not affected by the background electrolyte (Na+, Ca2+) or the addition of DOM. Furthermore, the addition of IP reduced the sorption of DOM to the kaolinitic soil (by up to 50%) in both background electrolyte solutions. These results highlight the contrasting roles of divalent and monovalent cations in conjunction with DOM in IP sorption to semi-arid I/S soils. We propose a new approach based on two conceptual mechanisms to explain the DOM’s enhancement of IP sorption to I/S soils. (1) Under dispersion conditions in the Na+-dominated solutions, Ca2+-mediated DOM-IP complexes bind to the clay’s negative planar surfaces. (2) Under flocculation conditions in the Ca+-dominated solutions, the distance between adjacent platelets decreases, reducing both the electronegative charge spillover and Ca2+ bridge-mediated DOM sorption. In contrast, the addition of DOM to kaolinite, a multi-platelet clay with a low isomorphic negative charge, reduces IP sorption due to competitive sorption on the clay’s broken edges.

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Anaerobically digested sewage sludge compost


Dissolved organic matter or carbon


Electrical conductivity


Electrical double layer


Inorganic phosphorus/orthophosphate




Point of zero charge




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Partial funding for this work came from the Israel National Coal Ash Board (INCAB), grant no. 344/17. The authors wish to express their deep gratitude to the late Mr. Omri Lulav, head of the Israel National Coal Ash Board (NCAB). The authors would also like to express their gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Shiran Cohen for her invaluable help with the analyses and Dr. Hillary Voet for her guidance and help with the statistical analysis.

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Yaniv Freiberg: investigation, writing—original draft, visualization, and data curation. Pinchas Fine: review and editing, visualization, data curation, funding acquisition, and supervision. Irit Levkovitch: investigation. Michael Borisover: supervision and writing—original Draft. Shahar Baram: funding acquisition, supervision, and review and editing.

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Correspondence to ‏Yaniv Freiberg.

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Freiberg, ‏., Fine, P., Borisover, M. et al. Effect of biosolid-derived dissolved organic matter on orthophosphate sorption to soils depends on clay mineralogy and solution composition. Environ Sci Pollut Res 30, 113649–113659 (2023).

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