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Intermittent rainstorms cause pulses of nitrogen, phosphorus, and copper in leachate from compost in bioretention systems

Mullane, Jessica M., Flury, Markus, Iqbal, Hamid, Freeze, Patrick M., Hinman, Curtis, Cogger, Craig G., Shi, Zhenqing
The Science of the total environment 2015 v.537 pp. 294-303
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, bioretention areas, composts, copper, dissolved organic carbon, electrical conductivity, humic acids, leaching, nitrates, nitrogen, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, nutrients, pH, phosphorus, rain, sand, soil, storms, stormwater, surface tension, vegetation
Bioretention systems rely on vegetation and mixtures of soil, sand, and compost to filter stormwater runoff. However, bioretention systems can also leach metals and nutrients, and compost may be a major contributor to this leaching. To safely implement bioretention systems, it is crucial to determine the composition of compost leachate. We characterized and quantified the leachate composition of compost following intermittent, simulated storm events. Columns of municipal compost were irrigated to simulate 6-month, 24-hour rain storms in the Seattle–Tacoma region. Outflow was analyzed for pH, electrical conductivity (EC), particulate concentration, surface tension, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), nitrogen, phosphorus, and copper. Results indicate a decrease of chemical concentrations over the course of individual storms and following repeated storms, but each new storm released another peak of constituents. The decrease in phosphorus, copper, and DOC concentrations with repeated storms was slower than for nitrate and EC. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) showed that the DOC consisted mainly of aliphatic and aromatic components typical of fulvic and humic acids. Less than 3% of the original copper content from the compost leached out even after nine storm events. Nonetheless, copper concentrations in the leachate exceeded regulatory discharge standards. Our results show that compost can serve as a sustained source of leaching of nutrients and metals.