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Environ Pollut. 2004 Nov;132(1):61-71.

Microbial acidification and pH effects on trace element release from sewage sludge.

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Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Riley-Robb Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-5701, USA.


Leaching of sludge-borne trace elements has been observed in experimental and field studies. The role of microbial processes in the mobilization of trace elements from wastewater sludge is poorly defined. Our objectives were to determine trace element mobilization from sludge subjected to treatments representing microbial acidification, direct chemical acidification and no acidification, and to determine the readsorption potential of mobilized elements using calcareous sand. Triplicate columns (10-cm diameter) for incubation and leaching of sludge had a top layer of digested dewatered sludge (either untreated, acidified with H2SO4, or limed with CaCO3; all mixed with glass beads to prevent ponding) and a lower glass bead support bed. Glass beads in the sludge layer, support layer or both were replaced by calcareous sand in four treatments used for testing the readsorption potential of mobilized elements. Eight sequential 8-day incubation and leaching cycles were operated, each consisting of 7.6 d of incubation at 28 degrees C followed by 8 h of leaching with synthetic acid rain applied at 0.25 cm/h. Leachates were analyzed for trace elements, nitrate and pH, and sludge layer microbial respiration was measured. The largest trace element, nitrate and S losses occurred in treatments with the greatest pH depression and greatest microbial respiration rates. Cumulative leaching losses from both microbial acidification and direct acidification treatments were > 90% of Zn and 64-80% of Cu and Ni. Preventing acidification with sludge layer lime or sand restricted leaching for all trace elements except Mo. Results suggested that the primary microbial role in the rapid leaching of trace elements was acidification, with results from direct acidification being nearly identical to microbial acidification. Microbial activity in the presence of materials that prevented acidification mobilized far lower concentrations of trace elements, with the exception of Mo. Trace elements mobilized by acidification were readsorbed by calcareous sand when present.

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