The benefits of biosolids have spread through decades of research

Vital solids are delivered to the field to spread over the ground so they can provide valuable nutrients to the soil and plants. Biosolids provide crops, such as wheat and corn, with more minerals and zinc. Credit: Jim Ippolito

For more than four decades, biosolids have been applied to Earth and studied by researchers for many useful purposes. Biosolids is the product of the wastewater treatment process. Yes, that means sanitation. However, wastewater is carefully treated to ensure that it has beneficial and not harmful properties.

Biosolids are produced by separating liquids from solids in wastewater. The solids are then processed to produce a nutrient-rich semi-solid. Jim Ippolito, a professor at Colorado State University, is an expert on his years of work bio solids and its benefits. He and his colleague, Ken Barbarik, reviewed 45 years of bio-solidland application research.

“All of this research was done in Colorado, which is amazing in itself. Most other states don’t have the same level or depth in research history,” Ippolito says. “Regardless, we highlight early work where scientists were using basic knowledge of soil science to deal with the use of this product. We also discuss current discoveries where biosolids improve soil health in various ecosystems.”

The search was published in Environmental Quality Magazine.

When and why did the use of biosolids begin? It can be traced back to the United States Clean Water Act of 1972. The act gave the Environmental Protection Agency a mission to control potential water pollution. Part of this has been setting standards for municipalities to meet when cleaning sewage before it is discharged. Wastewater cleaning produces biological solids, which also have federal regulations.

“To my knowledge, no other biosolids review articles span the time frame between the creation of the Clean Water Act to submit,” he says. “This comprehensive review article is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in the beneficial reuse of biosolids. Our research highlights the benefits of using biosolids to raise plants to feed animals, to grow crops to feed people, and to do these things safely.”

Over the years, scientists have found many benefits to biosolids. One is that biosolids can be used in semi-arid agricultural areas and provide crops, such as wheat and corn, with more minerals and zinc. This means that humans and animals can benefit from zinc consumption by eating these crops. This is especially useful when billions of people around the world do not get enough zinc in their diet.

Ippolito explains that “micronutrients, such as copper and zinc, found in biosolids actually come from the entire municipal infrastructure, such as copper pipes and zinc welding.” “They are likely also present because they are essential nutrients for plants, animals and humans. Moreover, we get rid of these and other elements when we go to the bathroom. They are concentrated in vital solids along with copper and zinc from municipal infrastructure.”

Many cities have their own biosolids recycling systems.

The benefits of biosolids have spread through decades of research

Biological residues can be seen on the surface of the soil in this wheat field during hot, dry and windy conditions. The biosolids were laid about 10 months before the image was taken. The application of biosolids has been found to improve soil health in semi-arid pasture areas to allow plant growth as a food source for animals such as livestock. Credit: Jim Ippolito

Biosolids have been found to improve soil health in semi-arid pasture areas to allow plant growth As a food source for livestock. In the face of the rapidly changing climate, it can make the landscape more resilient. Ippolito says such findings are valuable because one-third of all land in the United States is pasture or pasture.

In addition, biosolids have been tested and found to be useful in other applications, such as when landscapes recover from wildfires or when land is mined. They provide energy to the microorganisms in the soil which in turn improve Nutrient Cycle that help plants thrive across the landscape.

“We have done a lot of good for Colorado and other similar states in terms of reusing this product that could have been landfilled in a beneficial way,” says Ippolito. “Why throw something useful? I basically built my career around ways to use biosolids and other products to improve environmental quality in a healthy way.”

Obtaining soil solid response to application of biosolids

more information:
James A. Ippolito et al, The Clean Water and Biosolids Act: A 45-Year Chronological Review of Colorado Biosolids Application Research, Environmental Quality Magazine (2022). DOI: 10.1002 / jeq2.20376

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