The production of sludge in France is estimated to be about 900,000 metric tons dry matter per year and 60% of this is recycled onto agricultural land. At present, the long term future of this procedure is open to question and among the different arguments being put forward are the levels of metallic trace elements and the risk of accumulation in soils.
This study presents the behaviour of metallic trace elements in sludges from three different treatment procedures: thickened liquid sludges, dewatered sludges and dried sludges. These biosolids are mixed with a clay soil and then placed in a temperature and humidity controlled glasshouse. Several containers are seeded with ryegrass and compared with controls. For the three harvests, covering all the amendments studied (including non-amended soil), the differences are not really representative. Absorption by the ryegrass is low in all cases. For the cadmium, the chromium, the nickel and the lead, the roots are 5 to 10 times more concentrated than the leaves. The majority of these elements stay absorbed in the roots, regardless of the amendment used.
The addition of the sludges has considerably reduced the uptake of water in ryegrass throughout its growth cycle. Quite apart from their fertilizing qualities, wastewater treatment plant sludges could offer important implications for irrigation.