Long-term effects of land application of class B biosolids on the soil microbial populations, pathogens, and activity

Huruy Zerzghi, Charles P. Gerba, John P. Brooks, Ian L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This study evaluated the infl uence of 20 annual land applications of Class B biosolids on the soil microbial community. Th e potential benefi ts and hazards of land application were evaluated by analysis of surface soil samples collected following the 20th land application of biosolids. Th e study was initiated in 1986 at the University of Arizona Marana Agricultural Center, 21 miles north of Tucson, AZ. Th e fi nal application of biosolids was in March 2005, followed by growth of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) from April through November 2005. Surface soil samples (0-30 cm) were collected monthly from March 2005, 2 wk after the fi nal biosolids application, through December 2005, and analyzed for soil microbial numbers. December samples were analyzed for additional soil microbial properties. Data show that land application of Class B biosolids had no signifi cant long-term effect on indigenous soil microbial numbers including bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi compared to unamended control plots. Importantly, no bacterial or viral pathogens were detected in soil samples collected from biosolid amended plots in December (10 mo after the last land application) demonstrating that pathogens introduced via Class B biosolids only survived in soil transiently. However, plots that received biosolids had signifi cantly higher microbial activity or potential for microbial transformations, including nitrifi cation, sulfur oxidation, and dehydrogenase activity, than control plots and plots receiving inorganic fertilizers. Overall, the 20 annual land applications showed no long-term adverse eff ects, and therefore, this study documents that land application of biosolids at this particular site was sustainable throughout the 20-yr period, with respect to soil microbial properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-408
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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