Phosphorus management for sustainable biosolids recycling in the United States

H. A. Elliott, G. A. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Land-based recycling of processed sewage sludge (biosolids) has traditionally been challenged by concerns over metals, organics, pathogens, odors, and public perception. Nutrient concerns, however, portend even greater challenges, and threaten land application programs in the US. Long-term application of biosolids results in accumulation of soil phosphorus (P) above concentrations needed for optimum crop yields. Water quality impairment associated with accelerated eutrophication is driving the US states to adopt policies and laws to reduce P losses to surface waters from agricultural land. Nearly all states have developed site assessment tools (P indices) to rank fields based on their vulnerability to P loss and to target remedial strategies. Biosolids have not been systematically addressed in most states and sustaining economical biosolids recycling programs will be difficult if policies fail to consider certain critical issues. Soil test P benchmarks should be based upon environmental P loss risk rather than crop response. Policies must recognize the role of mandated buffers in protecting surface water quality. Site indices must account for the sizable differences in P loss potential among biosolids types compared to mineral fertilizers and livestock manures. Finally, agronomic rate calculations must recognize different P fertilizer replacement values among biosolids products. Deployment of P management regulations for biosolids lacking scientifically defensible strategies in these areas will adversely affect land-based recycling. Sustainability requires additional research and intentional inclusion of biosolids in implementation of evolving P management policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1318-1327
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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