Water-extractable phosphorus in biosolids: Implications for land-based recycling

R. C. Brandt, H. A. Elliott, G. A. O'Connor

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58 Scopus citations


Phosphorus-based nutrient management will inevitably be required for land application of biosolids. Water-extractable phosphorus (WEP) in livestock manures is an indicator of phosphorus loss from agricultural watersheds and this study evaluated its use for biosolids. The WEP to total phosphorus percentage (PWEP) in 41 biosolids (representing a variety of wastewater and solids treatment processes) was compared to dairy and poultry manures and triple superphosphate fertilizer. The mean PWEP for conventionally treated and stabilized biosolids was 2.4%, which was significantly lower than inorganic fertilizer (85%), dairy manure (52%), and poultry manure (21%). Low biosolids PWEP is attributed to elevated aluminum and iron content from chemical additions during wastewater treatment and solids dewatering operations. Facilities using biological phosphorus removal had the highest mean biosolids PWEP (∼14%), whereas heat-dried biosolids had the lowest average PWEP (<∼0.5%). Paired samples of digested cake and the corresponding biosolids treated by processes to further reduce pathogens (i.e., thermal treatment, composting, and advanced alkaline stabilization) showed that these processes tended to reduce biosolids PWEP. Biosolids composition and processing mode exert a controlling influence on the potential for off-site phosphorus migration at land-application sites. Nutrient management policies for land-based recycling should account for the widely varying potential of organic amendments to cause soluble phosphorus losses in runoff and leaching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-129
Number of pages9
JournalWater Environment Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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