The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co-amendments : Risks and benefits

Stone, W. and Lukashe, N.S. and Blake, L.I. and Gwandu, T. and Hardie, A.G. and Quinton, J. and Johnson, K. and Clarke, C.E. (2021) The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co-amendments : Risks and benefits. Journal of Environmental Quality, 50 (6). pp. 1381-1394. ISSN 0047-2425

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Water treatment residual (WTR) is composed of sludges from the potable water treatment process, currently largely destined for landfill. This waste can be diverted to rebuild degraded soils, aligning with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals 12 (Consumption and Production) and 15 (Terrestrial Ecosystems). Biosolids are tested against stringent pathogen guidelines, yet few studies have explored the microbial risk of WTR land application, despite anthropogenic impacts on water treatment. We explored the microbial risks and benefits of amending nutrient-poor sandy soil with WTRs. Our results showed that the culturable pathogen load of wet and dry WTRs did not warrant pre-processing before land application, according to South African national quality guidelines, with fecal coliforms not exceeding 104 colony forming units per gram dry weight in wet sludges sampled from four South African and Zimbabwean water treatment plants and decreasing upon drying and processing. There was no culturable pathogenic (fecal coliforms, enterococci, Salmonella, and Shigella) regrowth in soil incubations amended with dry WTR. However, the competition (microbial load and diversity) introduced by a WTR co-amendment did not limit pathogen survival in soils amended with biosolids. Application of WTR to nutrient-poor sandy soils for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) growth improved the prokaryotic and eukaryotic culturable cell concentrations, similar to compost. However, the compost microbiome more significantly affected the bacterial beta diversity of the receiving soil than WTR when analyzed with automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis. Thus, although there was a low pathogen risk for WTR amendment in receiving soils and total soil microbial loads were increased, microbial diversity was more significantly enhanced by compost than WTR. © 2021 The Authors. Journal of Environmental Quality © 2021 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Environmental Quality
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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Stone, W., Lukashe, N. S., Blake, L. I., Gwandu, T., Hardie, A. G., Quinton, J., Johnson, K., & Clarke, C. E. (2021). The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co-amendments: Risks and benefits. J Environ Qual. 50: 1381– 1394. doi: 10.1002/jeq2.20286 which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? biosolidsnutrientspathogenspotable watersandsoilssustainable developmentculturableenvironmental qualityfecal coliformland applicationsmicrobial diversitymicrobial loadspotable water treatmentsandy soilssandysoilwater treatment residualscompostingwater sci ??
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Deposited On:
21 Oct 2021 08:45
Last Modified:
12 Feb 2024 00:42