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Chemical and ecotoxicological assessment of sludge-based biosolids used for corn field fertilization


Sludge-based biosolids can be used for crop fertilization and for soil enrichment with organic matter. The prerequisites for their application are laid out in 86/278/EEC which sets limits for metals of toxicological concern in the biosolid and in the recipient soil. In this context, three kinds of sludge-based biosolids from a municipal wastewater treatment plant were submitted to the leaching tests EN 12457-2 and ΝΕΝ 7341. The leachates were examined for their physicochemical, chemical, and ecotoxicological characteristics four times within a year. Even in the more aggressive metal leaching method (ΝΕΝ 7341), results were much lower than the limits set in Council Directive 86/278/EEC. Correlations were noted between numerous parameters and principal component analysis grouped them in 3 components explaining 76% of total variation. These leaching tests were also performed on soil-biosolid samples from another investigative research in which two of the three kinds of biosolids had been incorporated in corn fields at doses 0, 20, and 40 tn/ha. EN 12457-2 leaching tests indicated that Ni and Cd leaching was affected by biosolid incorporation in soil, in relation to the type of the receiving soil (clay or sand). The leachates from the soil-biosolid mixtures were practically not toxic for the organisms tested (D. magna, V. fischeri, higher plants). In summary the biosolids were considered of low environmental risk when utilized in the field. A detailed risk assessment encompassing both chemical and ecotoxicological analysis is necessary for integrated evaluation of biosolids.

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Fig. 1
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Limed biosolid


Dehydrated biosolid


Limed biosolid clay soil


Dehydrated biosolid clay soil


Limed biosolid EN 12457-2 leaching


Dehydrated biosolid EN 12457-2 leaching


Limed biosolid NEN 7341 leaching


Dehydrated biosolid NEN 7341 leaching


Limed biosolid sandy soil


Dehydrated biosolid sandy soil




Dried biosolid




Dried biosolid EN 12457-2 leaching




Dried biosolid NEN 7341 leaching


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The present research was funded by EYATH S.A. (contract number: RC AUTH 97019).

Mr Giannakis’ scholarship: a«This research is co-financed by Greece and the European Union (European Social Fund- ESF) through the Operational Programme «Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning» in the context of the project “Strengthening Human Resources Research Potential via Doctorate Research” (MIS-5000432), implemented by the State Scholarships Foundation (ΙΚΥ)»

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Giannakis, I., Emmanouil, C., Mitrakas, M. et al. Chemical and ecotoxicological assessment of sludge-based biosolids used for corn field fertilization. Environ Sci Pollut Res 28, 3797–3809 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-09165-6

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  • Biosolids
  • Sludge
  • Bioassays
  • Metals
  • Risk assessment