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OF 2006-1286 Abstract

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Application of Municipal Biosolids to Dry-Land Wheat Fields – A Monitoring Program near Deer Trail, Colorado (USA)

A presentation for an international conference: “The Future of Agriculture: Science, Stewardship, and Sustainability”, August 7–9, 2006, Sacramento, CA

By James G. Crock, David B. Smith, and Tracy J.B. Yager


Since late 1993, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District of Denver (Metro District), a large wastewater treatment plant in Denver, Colorado, has applied Grade I, Class B biosolids to about 52,000 acres of non-irrigated farmland and rangeland near Deer Trail, Colorado. In cooperation with the Metro District in 1993, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began monitoring ground water at part of this site. In 1999, the USGS began a more comprehensive study of the entire site to address stakeholder concerns about the chemical effects of biosolids applications. This more comprehensive monitoring program has recently been extended through 2010. Monitoring components of the more comprehensive study included biosolids collected at the wastewater treatment plant, soil, crops, dust, alluvial and bedrock ground water, and stream bed sediment. Streams at the site are dry most of the year, so samples of stream bed sediment deposited after rain were used to indicate surface-water effects. This presentation will only address biosolids, soil, and crops. More information about these and the other monitoring components are presented in the literature (e.g., Yager and others, 2004a, b, c, d) and at the USGS Web site for the Deer Trail area studies at Priority parameters identified by the stakeholders for all monitoring components, included the total concentrations of nine trace elements (arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and zinc), plutonium isotopes, and gross alpha and beta activity, regulated by Colorado for biosolids to be used as an agricultural soil amendment. Nitrogen and chromium also were priority parameters for ground water and sediment components.

In general, the objective of each component of the study was to determine whether concentrations of priority parameters (1) were higher than regulatory limits, (2) were increasing with time, or (3) were significantly higher in biosolids-applied areas than in a similar farmed area where biosolids were not applied. Where sufficient samples could be collected, statistical methods were used to evaluate effects. Rigorous quality assurance was included in all aspects of the study. The roles of hydrology and geology also were considered in the design, data collection, and interpretation phases of the study.

Study results indicate that the chemistry of the biosolids from the Denver plant was consistent during 1999-2005, and total concentrations of regulated trace elements were consistently lower than the regulatory limits. Plutonium isotopes were not detected in the biosolids. Leach tests using deionized water to simulate natural precipitation indicate arsenic, molybdenum, and nickel were the most soluble priority parameters in the biosolids.

Study results show no significant difference in concentrations of priority parameters between biosolids-applied soils and unamended soils where no biosolids were applied. However, biosolids were applied only twice during 1999-2003. The next soil sampling is not scheduled until 2010. To date concentrations of most of the priority parameters were not much greater in the biosolids than in natural soil from the sites. Therefore, many more biosolids applications would need to occur before biosolids effects on the soil priority constituents can be quantified. Leach tests using deionized water to simulate precipitation indicate that molybdenum and selenium were the priority parameters that were most soluble in both biosolids-applied soil and natural or unamended soil.

Study results do not indicate significant differences in concentrations of priority parameters between crops grown in biosolids-applied areas and crops grown where no biosolids were applied. However, crops were grown only twice during 1999-2003, so only two crop samples could be collected. The wheat-grain elemental data collected during 1999-2003 for both biosolids-applied areas and unamended areas are similar to literature values for wheat grain from other areas. Wheat samples have been collected from the Arapahoe County site for 2006 with results still pending.

Data from this study were used to compile an inorganic-chemical biosolids signature that can be contrasted with the geochemical signature for this site. The biosolids signature and an understanding of the geology and hydrology of the site can be used to separate biosolids effects from geochemical effects. logo