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Sistema de Información Científica
Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal
SEWAGE SLUDGE COMPOST FERTILIZER EFFECT ON MAIZE YIELD AND
SOIL HEAVY METAL CONCENTRATION
Ma. del Mar DELGADO ARROYO, Miguel Ángel PORCEL COTS,
Rosario MIRALLES DE IMPERIAL HORNEDO, Eulalia Ma. BELTRÁN RODRÍGUEZ,
Luisa BERINGOLA BERINGOLA and José Valero MARTÍN SÁNCHEZ
Departamento de Medio Ambiente, INIA. Apdo. 8111. 28080 Madrid, Spain, e-mail: delgado@inia.es
(Recibido abril de 2001, aceptado julio de 2002)
Key words: sewage sludge, reusing, fertilization, production, heavy metals, maize
ABSTRACT
Studies were conducted to determine the use of an organic residue (sewage sludge compost) for
four years (1996-1999), to study effects of sewage compost on crop yield and chemical proper-
ties of soil under field condition. Productivity studies showed that the greatest growth is ob-
tained in mixed II treatment (12000 kg/ha sewage sludge compost plus 350 kg/ha urea) with 20 %
more than mineral fertilization, followed by mixed I (8000 kg/ha sewage sludge compost plus 350
kg/ha urea) with 10 % more than mineral fertilization. No toxic effects arising from the heavy
metals in the plant were observed. Moreover, the concentration of
heavy metals in the soil are
below Spanish and European legal limits.
Palabras clave: lodo biodegradado, reutilización, fertilización, producción, metales pesados, maíz
RESUMEN
Se realizaron ensayos con residuos orgánicos (biodegradados de sedimentos de aguas residuales)
durante 4 años (1996-1999) para determinar el efecto del lodo biodegradado sobre la producción
y las propiedades químicas del suelo. Estudios de productividad han demostrado que el mayor
crecimiento se ha obtenido con el tratamiento mixto II (12000 kg/ha de lodo biodegradado más
350 kg/ha de urea) con 20 % más que la fertilización mineral, seguido del mixto I (8000 kg/ha lodo
biodegradado más 350 kg/ha de urea) con 10 % más que la fertilización mineral. Con respecto al
contenido en metales pesados, en ningún momento la aplicación de lodo biodegradado en un
cultivo de maíz ha constituido un riesgo para la planta. La concentración de metales pesados en
el suelo está por debajo de los límites legales permitidos en España y en el resto de Europa.
Rev. Int. Contam. Ambient.
18
(3) 147-150, 2002
INTRODUCTION
Knowing of chemical composition of sewage slud-
ges is of great importance when developing recommen-
dations for the rates of sludge applications on agricultural
land (Beltrán
et al
. 1999). At the present time, recom-
mendations for sludge applications rates on land are based
on the fertilizer values (N, P and K) and on the concen-
trations of trace metals present in sludge (Delgado
et al
.
1999). The metals of primary concern are Zn, Cu, Pb, Ni
and Cd which, when applied to soils in excessive amounts,
may reduce plant yields or impair the quality of food or
fiber produced (Parr
et al
.1989).
On the other hand, repeated applications of compost
from sewage sludges on agricultural soil have significant
effects on the physical and chemical properties of soil
(Redy and Overcash 1981, Okereke 1985). A consider-
able amount of research has been carried out in Europe
M.M. Delgado
et al.
148
in order to evaluate the effects of compost from sewage
sludge on soil properties (Williams and Goh 1982, Sheiikh
et al.
1990).
Organic matter deficit in Spanish soils has reached
alarming levels, which are not higher than 1 % due to
agricultural practices (Beltrán
et al.
2000). Hence, a
greater effort is needed to promote the conservation and
enrichment of organic matter (Berry 1987). Nowadays
sewage sludge recycling is one of the main options
adopted in agriculture because sewage sludge compost
is plenty of plant nutrients, especially N and P, and are an
effective long-lasting amendment.
The purpose of present study was to determine the
effect of sewage sludge compost on maize crop yield
and on the chemical properties of the soil under field con-
dition.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The study was conducted for four years (1996-1999),
at a cultivation area located in the province of Madrid,
Spain. Maize (
Zea mays
L. var. Juanita) was grown in
soil amended with a compost of sewage sludge obtained
after an aerobic fermentation process of sewage slud-
ges mixture from six
waste water treatment plants in
Madrid (Valdebebas, China Butarque, Rejas, Sur and Sur
Oriental).
Three different treatments were applied (bottom
dressing in March and cover dressing in May) to soil
surface: mineral treatment (control) (Barrantes
et al.
1992, Domínguez 1997), mixed I treatment and mixed II
treatment (sewage sludge compost plus urea). The char-
acteristics of treatments used were:
Mineral treatment (Control) with basal dressing: 800
kg/ha of N (NH
4
NO
3
)-P (CaHPO
4
)-K (KCL) (15-
15-15) and top dressing: 350 kg/ha urea (46 %).
Mixed I treatment with basal dressing: 8000 kg/ha sew-
age sludge compost and top dressing : 350 kg/ha urea
(46 %).
Mixed II treatment with basal dressing: 12000 kg/ha
sewage sludge compost and top dressing: 350 kg/ha
urea (46 %).
Table I
shows the chemical composition of sewage
sludge compost used in the trials (dry weight), the pH
was obtained with the glass electrode, using a soil water
suspension of 1:2.5 (w/v), electric conductivity was de-
termined in conductivimeter (soil/water ratio, 1:5.0)
25 ºC, oxidable carbon by the Walkley-Black method
(APHA, AWWA, WPCF 1992), total Kjeldahl nitrogen
by Kjeldahl method (Hesse 1971) and P, K, Ca, Fe, Mg
and heavy metals Cu, Pb, Cr, Zn, Ni and Cd concentra-
tions were determined by atomic absorption spectros-
copy (AAS) after mineralization with HNO
3
+ HCLO
4
solution (Sims and Kline 1991).
Harvested plants were oven dried at 65 ºC, weighed
for dry matter yield, ground and stored for analysis. The
production and metal uptake of grain maize were ana-
lyzed after annual treatment (Chae and Tabutabai 1986).
Soil samples were brought from the field at depth 0-
30 and 30-60 cm were taken from 30 sites (10 samples
mineral treatment, 10 samples mixed I treatment and 10
samples mixed II treatment) for each depth in the winter
of 1999, the samples were air-dried, passed through a 2
mm sieve and stored at 4 ºC.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The factors studied were those related to production
and quality of the maize grain and to the properties of the
soil. Special importance was conferred to the possible
contamination with heavy metals (factor that limits its
use), especially in the plots with annual application of
compost.
Table II
shows the yield maize grain (kg/ha) in dif-
ferent treatments througout for the four years of the ex-
periment.
Characteristics
Sewage Sludge Compost*
Humidity (%)
21.5
pH (H
2
O)
7.9
E.C. (dS/m)
4.6
Organic Matter (%)
36.6
Oxidable Carbon(%)
13.2
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (%)
2.5
Phosphorus (%)
3.0
Potassium (%)
0.4
Calcium (%)
7.1
Iron (%)
1.7
Magnesium (%)
0.9
Copper (mg/kg)
293.5
Lead (mg/kg)
194.0
Chromium (mg/kg)
279.5
Zinc (mg/kg)
1205.5
Nickel (mg/kg)
55.0
Cadmium (mg/kg)
3.5
TABLE I.
CHEMICAL ANALYSIS OF THE SEWAGE SLUDGE
COMPOST USED (1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999)
* Mean of four years
1996
1997
1998
1999
Average
production
Mineral
10148
13597
10006
11852
11401
Mixed I
11545
14117
11947
13565
12793
Mixed II
13818
15708
12840
13954
14080
TABLE II.
MAIZE GRAIN YIELD IN DIFFERENT TREAT-
MENTS DURING 1996 TO 1999 (kg/ha)
SEWAGE SLUDGE COMPOST FERTILIZER EFFECT ON MAIZE YIELD
149
Production results showed that in mixed II treatment
(12000 kg/ha sewage sludge compost + 350 kg/ha urea)
average grain yield was 14080 kg/ha, a 23.5 % increase
with respect to mineral treatment in mixed I grain yield
that was 12793 kg/ha, a 12.2 with respect to the stan-
dard (Hernández
et al
. 1991).
Table III
shows analytical characteristics of maize
grain; no toxic effects arising from the heavy metals in
the plant were observed.
Also, the purpose of the present study was to deter-
mine the effect of sewage sludge compost on several
soil parameters ( pH, E.C., organic matter, N, P, K, hu-
mic acids, fulvic acids and heavy metals). Although the
annual application of the rate mixed II resulted in an im-
portant accumulation of heavy metals in the soil, never
exceeded Spanish nor European limits (
Table IV
) (Guidi
et al.
1990, Wagner 1993).
In
table IV
within each heavy metal, the means fol-
lowed by the same letter are not significantly different
(p>0.05), based on analysis of variance (ANOVA) mul-
tiple range tests. There are no significant differences for
heavy metals lead, cadmium and chromium in anything
for profile soil 0-30 and 30-60 because the results in all
the treatments were: Pb < 3 mg/kg, Cd < 0.1 mg/kg and
Cr < 3 mg/kg.
Within each type of organic matter (
Table V
), the
means followed by the same letter are not significantly
different (p>0.05), based on analysis of variance
(ANOVA) multiple range tests.
The sewage sludge compost (
Table VI
) increases
oxidable carbon and humic acids in the soil (Pagliai
et al
.
1981, Smith
et al
. 1993). No significant organic matter
was detected in 30-60 cm depth.
ANALYSIS OF DATA
A statistic analysis of variance multiple range tests
from agronomic factors, heavy metals and organic mat-
Amended
Zn*
Cu*
Cr*
Pb*
Cd*
Ni*
P (%)
K (%) Ca (%)
Mineral
18.83
2.46
2.29
0.50
0.0052
3.22
0.27
0.29
0.004
Mixed I
15.67
3.86
2.12
0.54
0.0050
3.01
0.22
0.26
0.003
Mixed
II
14.33
4.36
2.75
0.67
0.0053
2.99
0.21
0.20
0.003
TABLE III.
ANALYTICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF MAIZE GRAIN IN 1999
*heavy metals (mg/kg)
Mineral
Mixed I
Mixed II
Oxidable Carbon (%)
1.14
a
1.29
b
1.41
c
Humic Acids (mg/kg)
1.39
a
1.64
b
1.74
b
Fulvic Acids (mg/kg)
1.22
a
1.22
a
1.23
a
TABLE VI.
ORGANIC MATTER IN SOIL PROFILE (0-30 cm of
depth) IN 1999*
* Each value represents the mean of 10 pots
Depth (cm)
Mineral
Mixed I
Mixed II
pH 1:2.5 H
2
O
0-30
8.59
a
8.46
a
8.26
b
30-60
8.25ª
8.49b
8.40
b
E.C.dS/m:1:5 H
2
O
0-30
0.22
a
0.27
b
0.31
c
30-60
1.42
a
0.47
a
0.38
b
Total K-Nitrogen (%) 0-30
0.13
a
0.13
a,b
0.15
b
30-60
0.07
a
0.09
a,b
0.11
b
Phosphorus (%)
0-30
0.05
a
0.11
b
0.16
c
30-60
0.03
a
0.04
b
0.06
c
Potassium (%)
0-30
0.50
a
0.51
a
0.52
a
30-60
0.44
a
0.48
b
0.49
b
Calcium (%)
0-30
16.85
a
17.37
a
17.78
a
30-60
17.57
a
17.93
a
18.32
a
TABLE V
. AGRONOMIC PARAMETERS IN SOIL PROFILE
(mg/kg) IN 1999*
* Each value represents the mean of 10 pots
Within each agronomic parameter (pH, E.C., total K-
N, P, K and Ca), means followed by the same letter are
not significantly different (p>0.05), based on analysis of
variance (ANOVA) multiple range tests.
Amended
Mineral
Mixed I
Mixed II
Cu
0-30
5.30
a
7.90
b
10.70
c
30-60
3.30
a
3.35
a
6.15
b
Zn
0-30
31.40
a
53.10
b
70.90
c
30-60
22.90ª
24.00
b
39.80
c
Ni
0-30
6.65
a
8.55
b
10.45
c
30-60
6.25
a
6.15
a
8.20
b
TABLE IV
. HEAVY METALS IN SOIL PROFILE (mg/kg) IN 1999*
* Each value represents the mean of 10 pots
M.M. Delgado
et al.
150
ter in soil profile was carried out for 1999 (
Tables IV
,
V
and
VI
). The conclusions from these analysis were:
For 0-30 cm depth
: denotes a statistically signifi-
cant difference (p<0.05) for nitrogen, pH, electric con-
ductivity, oxidable carbon, humic acids, fulvic acids and
heavy metals means (nickel, copper and zinc), and there
is no
statistically significant difference (p>0.05) for phos-
phorus, calcium and potassium.
For 30-60 cm depth
: denotes a statistically signifi-
cant difference for pH, electric conductivity, nitrogen,
phosphorus, potassium, oxidable carbon, calcium and
heavy metals (nickel, copper and zinc), and there is no
statistically significant difference for lead, cadmium and
chromium.
The results obtained show the effect of sewage sludge
compost on chemical properties of the soil under field
condition and
confirm the possibility to use sewage sludge
compost as fertilizer on maize.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We are grateful to the Municipal Authority of Madrid
for funding this study. The authors wish to extend their
sincere thanks to the personnel of the National Institute
for Agricultural Research.
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