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The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co‐amendments: Risks and benefits

Stone, Wendy and Lukashe, Noxolo S. and Blake, Lynsay I. and Gwandu, Tariro and Hardie, Ailsa G. and Quinton, John and Johnson, Karen and Clarke, Catherine Elaine (2021) 'The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co‐amendments: Risks and benefits.', Journal of Environmental Quality, 50 (6). pp. 1381-1394.


Water treatment residuals (WTR) are sludges from the potable water treatment process, currently largely destined for landfill. This waste can be diverted to rebuild degraded soils, aligning with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals 12 (Consumption and Production) and 15 (Terrestrial Ecosystems). Biosolids are tested against stringent pathogen guidelines, yet few studies have explored the microbial risk of WTR land application, despite anthropogenic impacts on water treatment. Here, the microbial risks and benefits of amending nutrient-poor sandy soil with WTR were explored. It was shown that the culturable pathogen load of wet and dry WTR did not warrant pre-processing before land application, according to South African national quality guidelines, with fecal coliforms not exceeding 104 CFU/gdw in wet sludges sampled from four South African and Zimbabwean water treatment plants, and decreasing upon drying and processing. There was no culturable pathogenic (fecal coliforms, enterococci, Salmonella and Shigella) regrowth in soil incubations amended with dry WTR. However, the competition (microbial load and diversity) introduced by a WTR co-amendment did not limit pathogen survival in soils amended with biosolids. The application of WTR to nutrient-poor sandy soils for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) growth improved the prokaryotic and eukaryotic culturable cell concentrations, similar to compost. However, the compost microbiome more significantly impacted the bacterial beta diversity of the receiving soil than WTR, analyzed with ARISA. Thus, although there was a low pathogen risk for WTR-amendment in receiving soils, and total soil microbial loads were increased, microbial diversity was more significantly enhanced by compost than WTR.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 25 September 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
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Publisher statement:This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Stone, Wendy, Lukashe, Noxolo S., Blake, Lynsay I., Gwandu, Tariro, Hardie, Ailsa G., Quinton, John, Johnson, Karen & Clarke, Catherine Elaine (2021). The microbiology of rebuilding soils with water treatment residual co‐amendments: Risks and benefits. Journal of Environmental Quality 50(6): 1381-1394., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Date accepted:25 August 2021
Date deposited:21 September 2021
Date of first online publication:25 September 2021
Date first made open access:25 September 2022

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