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UKWIR Project SL01: BIOSOLIDS TO MARKET. A STRATEGIC PROPOSAL TO EXPLORE THE THREATS TO BIOSOLIDS TO LAND

modern combine harvester working on a wheat cropAqua Enviro are part of a consortium, led by ADAS, to deliver a strategic UKWIR-funded project which is looking at threats to the recycling of biosolids to land. Other project partners include Cranfield University, The James Hutton Institute and The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

Biosolids (treated sewage sludge) has been beneficially recycled to agricultural land for many decades, supplying plant nutrients and organic matter – contributing to immediate crop nutrient requirements as well as providing long-term benefits to soil structure and fertility. As such, recycling biosolids to land is recognised by the UK government as the best practicable environmental option.

Our understanding and management of hazards (such as heavy metals) in biosolids is underpinned by a substantial body of research carried-out over many years. A range of regulatory and voluntary controls now limit the crop type, application rate and return period of biosolids applications, but there are a number of emerging hazards for which the evidence is less robust, and increasing interest in understanding whether current controls are adequate to manage these emerging hazards, which include micro-plastics. A robust, evidence-based response to these concerns is required to ensure that biosolids can continue to be applied to agricultural land in a safe and sustainable manner. Project SL01 forms a key part of this response.

The project team will build on the wealth of existing information available on biosolids recycling to agricultural land by undertaking a targeted evidence-based review of the new and emerging issues. The review will take a holistic and systematic approach, and will include the published UK and international scientific literature investigating the range of potential substances that are, or could be, present in biosolids and which may pose a future barrier to its recycling to land. These include micro- and nano-plastics, fibres, organic chemical compounds, potentially toxic elements, nanoparticles, pathogens (human, animal and plant), transfer of antimicrobial resistance and, importantly, combinations of these.

The team will use their expertise to identify and prioritise key focus areas for further investigation, including an assessment of safe levels and limits in place in the UK and elsewhere, together with information obtained on future trends and signals. Aqua Enviro’s direct practical experience with biosolids’ production and quality control will form a key part of the context within which the scientific evidence will be evaluated.

UKWIR’s Programme Lead for the project is Sarah Legg and the Project Manager is Mandy Fletton. They are supported by an expert steering group drawn from UK water companies.

For more information see: https://www.ukwir.org/eng/programme

Posted 11th August 2017
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