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Availability and transfer to grain of As, Cd, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn in a barley agri-system: Impact of biochar, organic and mineral fertilizers

Moreno-Jiménez, Eduardo, Fernández, José Manuel, Puschenreiter, Markus, Williams, Paul N., Plaza, César
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2016 v.219 pp. 171-178
arsenic, barley, biochar, biomass, cadmium, climate change, composts, copper, diet, exposure pathways, field experimentation, gels, greenhouses, harvest date, humans, lead, mineral fertilizers, nickel, risk, sewage sludge, soil, soil amendments, solubility, toxicity, zinc, Spain
With biochar becoming an emerging soil amendment and a tool to mitigate climate change, there are only a few studies documenting its effects on trace element cycling in agriculture. Zn and Cu are deficient in many human diets, whilst exposures to As, Pb and Cd need to be decreased. Biochar has been shown to affect many of them mainly at a bench or greenhouse scale, but field research is not available. In our experiment we studied the impact of biochar, as well as its interactions with organic (compost and sewage sludge) and mineral fertilisers (NPK and nitrosulfate), on trace element mobility in a Mediterranean agricultural field (east of Madrid, Spain) cropped with barley. At harvesting time, we analysed the soluble fraction, the available fraction (assessed with the diffusive gradients in thin gels technique, DGT) and the concentration of trace elements in barley grain. No treatment was able to significantly increase Zn, Cu or Ni concentration in barley grain, limiting the application for cereal fortification. Biochar helped to reduce Cd and Pb in grain, whereas As concentration slightly increased. Overall biochar amendments demonstrated a potential to decrease Cd uptake in cereals, a substantial pathway of exposure in the Spanish population, whereas mineral fertilisation and sewage sludge increased grain Cd and Pb. In the soil, biochar helped to stabilise Pb and Cd, while marginally increasing As release/mobilisation. Some of the fertilisation practises or treatments increased toxic metals and As solubility in soil, but never to an extent high enough to be considered an environmental risk. Future research may try to fortify Zn, Cu and Ni using other combinations of organic amendments and different parent biomass to produce enriched biochars.