MidAtlantic Biosolids Association

Biosolids Research Updates: Blurbs by Dr. Sally Brown

Biosolids and Soil Carbon

Biosolids (and composts) are the good news of this research update.  And the library even includes articles on how to (potentially) make them even better! 

We start with a big impact article on climate change.  Climate change is the bad news.  The first paper focuses on how natural climate solutions (NCS) can be a much more significant part of the answer to climate change than previously thought.  The authors go through a range of nature-based solutions with a focus on conservation, restoration and improved land management and conclude they would sequester 23.8 petagrams of CO2 per year.  These NCSs can do this while still allowing for sufficient food and fiber production that we can still wear clothes and eat.  What is a petagram you may ask?  It is 1,000,000,000 tons.  In other words, an unimaginably large amount.  While the authors focus on forestry and tree planting, they also discuss appropriate management of agricultural lands and the use of biochar.   They say biochar because, although gifted and great scientists, these guys don’t know the wonders of biosolids and composts.   The authors of the next two papers do.

The second paper in the library is currently causing quite the stir in compost circles.  The authors (from UC Davis) measured soil carbon concentrations to a depth of 2 meters in long-term field plots.  The plots included a corn rotation with conventional fertilizer, conventional + winter cover crops and organic.  The organic treatment included compost application and a winter cover crop.  Cover crops have previously been shown to increase soil carbon concentrations in the top soil horizons.  They did that here, too.  It was just when the authors dug deep that the differences started to show up.  For whatever reason, and the reason behind this is not clear or logical, the cover crop alone treated soils lost carbon in the lower depths.  It was only when compost was included that carbon concentrations in the lower depths stayed consistent, leading to a net carbon accumulation.  The take home figure from the paper is shown below.  Big conclusion is that compost is the hero.

The third paper is the same type of study as the second, but with biosolids.  It comes from the land of Brexit, which luckily has no bearing on long-term biosolids plots.  One of the authors on this is Steve McGrath, who is a long time metals guy, biosolids opponent.  The times “they are a changin’.”  This study was set up in 1994 with normal and high metal biosolids added annually for 20 years.  These guys may not have dug as deep but they measured wide.  Biosolids increased soil carbon, water holding capacity with non- significant increases in water infiltration rate and soil aggregate stability.   Adding biosolids also increased soil fertility in comparison to synthetic fertilizers with increases in total nitrogen, sulfur and extractable phosphorus.  Did I mention earthworms?  Earthworms doubled in number and weight compared to control soils.  Wheat grain N, P and S were also increased in the biosolids-amended soils.  Biosolids resulted in not only more carbon but much better soils with more nutritious wheat.  A pretty good deal, I’d say. 

So, composts and biosolids are excellent tools.  Can we make them even better?  That is the subject of the final two papers in the library.  The 4th paper comes from Brazil where biosolids were used to restore a strip mine.  The biosolids did a fine job; this is no surprise.  The restored sites also showed a highly significant increase in organic matter.  The big deal here is that the authors found a very significant fraction of the stored carbon was associated with iron oxides.  Organic-mineral complexes helped to protect the carbon from microbes, preventing them from eating it.  Perhaps adding iron to biosolids may increase the carbon sequestration potential of these materials?   I see a field trial in the future….

The final paper comes from Cornell University.  Here the authors added char to soils and measured microbial respiration.  They found that the char, like the iron in Paper #4, formed bonds with the soil carbon, protecting it from hungry microbes looking for lunch.  The complexed carbon was harder to eat and so more stable in the soil system.  Adding biochar to composts and biosolids might be another way to make a good thing even better. 

To view the journal article citations, click here.

Sally Brown, University of Washington


Biosolids NewsClips: Connecting Biosolids to the World

News from Within the MABA Region

BMPS & Pollution Prevention for Biosolids Management
Water & Waste Digest (10/2/19) - Robert Arner, life coach for Re-gain Consulting, gives a broad overview of best management practices of biosolids and highlights the benefits and concerns around land application of biosolids.

News from Beyond the MABA Region

Poop Talk in Oct. 3
Coupeville, WA (10/2/19) - Washington State University Extension is hosting a community discussion where scientists and experts in the field of biosolids will speak and answer questions about biosolids recycling. This discussion was organized to address community concerns about land application of biosolids.

What Makes Foods Today Toxic To Our Body?
Medical Daily (10/3/19) - “One agricultural expert examined three major sources of toxicity in food: phosphate fertilizers, glyphosate herbicides and biosolids (which are human waste used as fertilizer). He said these three toxins do their damage during the plants’ growth phase.”

Biosolids: Mix Human Waste with Toxic Chemicals, then Spread on Crops
The Guardian (10/5/19) - This article focuses on concerns surrounding biosolids land application.

Concerns Rise Over Tainted Sewage Sludge on Croplands
Lapeer, MI (10/4/19) - The town of Lapeer stopped supplying local farms with biosolids fertilizers in 2017 after state inspectors found biosolids were contaminated with PFAS. The city is now paying more to properly dispose of its biosolids and farmers are not benefiting from the low cost fertilizer. 

Compost Swap at Santa Rosa Sewage Plant Could Ease Path for Green-Waste Site, but Neighbors Skeptical
Santa Rosa, CA (10/5/19) - Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities is looking to outsource its biosolids composting management which would free up the current facility that composts biosolids to be used as a green waste composting facility. 

Brevard Commissioners OK Six-Month Moratorium on Expansion of Spreading of Sewage Sludge
Brevard County, FL (10/9/19) - “Brevard County's six-month moratorium on expanded application of sewage sludge is now on the books, after a final unanimous vote by the County Commission.” The article below about the Annual State of the River Report brings up challenges the region is facing due to land application of biosolids. 
State of the River Report Raises Red Flags

News from Abroad

New $13.7 Million Biosolids Center at RMIT Announced
Melbourne, Australia (10/2/19) - The Australian Research Council’s Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource, headquartered at RMIT University will research methods to better manage and use organic matter from wastewater. The center will also develop a group of highly-trained industry-ready researchers that will develop more sustainable, improved technologies, and enhanced use of biosolids products. 
Biosolids Soon to Become a Valuable Resource
Leading the Way in Biosolids Research and Innovation


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2019 Summer Symposium

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