Metals Leak from Tilled Soil in a Century – A Review

  •  Gunnar Bengtsson    


Toxic metals are mobilized on a large scale in modern society. Many of those metals end up in sewage sludge. The objective of this review was to elucidate the threat to groundwater due to a few metals lost from tilled sludge amended soils. It is sometimes suggested that these metals are immobilized in the topsoil and do not move downward. In contrast, dozens of long term field studies around the world indicate that penetration depths for metals increase with time since deposition.

Such studies were examined in depth in the current analysis. An equation was developed for calculation of long term mean metal penetration rates into the topsoil for copper and silver. The equation is valid for about a century but not much longer. The mean depths of a basic set of 11 cases from studies over 4 years to 100 years were predicted with a standard deviation of 11%. A typical penetration rate was 3 mm per year. There was no significant difference in penetration rate between several cations. Extremely large amendments were associated with larger penetration rates.

When metals have traversed the topsoil, the groundwater will be contaminated. The European Groundwater Pollution Directive stipulates that pesticide levels should be kept below 0.1 µg/l. When sludge is applied to agricultural soil, this level may by far be exceeded for many metals, even if strict limitations are applied to the metal contents of the sludge. This calls for careful assessment of the groundwater consequences of sludge amendment.

Extensive supplementary material provides many detailed tables, texts and references.

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