Quality of heavy metal-contaminated soil before and after column flushing with washing agents

Removal of heavy metals (HMs) from soil is a priority in soil washing/soil flushing. However, for further management of remediated soil, it should be characterized in detail. This study presents, for the first time, an evaluation of soil quality after column flushing with new-generation washing agents (WAs) recovered from municipal sewage sludge (dissolved organic matter, DOM; soluble humic-like substances, HLS; soluble humic substances, SHS) and Na2EDTA as a standard benchmark. Sandy loam soil was spiked with industrial levels of Cu, Pb and Zn, then flushed in a column reactor at two WA flow rates (0.5 and 1.0 ml/min). Soil quality was assessed by determining both physico-chemical (pH, total HMs and their mobility, soil organic matter, OM, humic substances, HS and their fractions, macroelements) and biological indicators (dehydrogenase activity, DHA; germination rate, GR; and inhibition factors for roots and shoots of Triticum aestivum).

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Fig: Total HM concentrations in soil before and after flushing with DOM, HLS, SHS and Na2EDTA: (a) Cu, (b) Pb, (c) Zn. Small letters (ab) indicate statistically significant differences in HM concentration between the WAs at one flow rate, capital letters (AB) indicate significant differences in HM concentration between the flow rates with one WA. The symbol x’ means no statistically significant differences between treatments. The values in grey columns mean residual HM concentration in flushed soil.

Total residual HMs contents and HMs contents in the mobile fraction were significantly lower in soil flushed at 1.0 ml/min than in soil flushed at 0.5 ml/min. With all WAs, the decrease in Cu content was larger than that of the other HMs, however this HM most effectively was removed with DOM. In contrast, Pb most effectively was removed by HLS and Na2EDTA, and DOM should not be used to remediate Pb-contaminated soil, due to its very low effectiveness. Flow rate did not appear to affect the fertilizing properties of the soil, DHA activity or soil toxicity indicators. Soil flushing with all SS_WAs increased OM, HS, and exchangeable P, K and Na content in remediated soils, but decreased exchangeable Ca content, and in most cases, exchangeable Mg content. Soil flushing substantially improved DHA activity and GR, but only slightly improved the shoot and root inhibition factors.

Klik, B., Gusiatin, Z.M. & Kulikowska, D. Quality of heavy metal-contaminated soil before and after column flushing with washing agents derived from municipal sewage sludge. Sci Rep 11, 15773 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-95441-5

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