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Remediating Montreal’s Tree Pit Soil Applying an Ash Tree-Derived Biochar

Seguin, Rose, Kargar, Maryam, Prasher, ShivO., Grant Clark, O., Jutras, Pierre
Water, air, and soil pollution 2018 v.229 no.3 pp. 84
Fraxinus americana, application rate, ash content, biochar, cadmium, composts, copper, groundwater, hardwood, leachates, leaching, lead, organic matter, pH, polluted soils, pyrolysis, roots, salts, sodium, soil amendments, soil solution, sorption, street trees, surface area, temperature, urban areas, urban runoff, water quality, zinc
Biochar as a soil amendment in street tree pits can be used to increase the soil’s ability to retain contaminants found in urban runoff. The increased retention can potentially decrease peak concentrations of soluble trace metals and de-icing salts in the soil solution, thereby decreasing the amounts taken up by tree roots or percolated out of the tree pits into the ground water. A leaching test measured the retention of trace metals (Cd, Zn, Cu, and Pb) and deicing salts (Na) by different kinds of biochar. The biochar was produced from hardwood (North American ash tree, Fraxinus americana) under different pyrolysis conditions, with three temperatures (350, 465 and 550 °C) and two residence times (10 and 30 min). Biochar pyrolyzed at 550 °C for 30 min significantly reduced the soluble concentrations of Zn, Cu, and Pb in the column leachate, most likely due to the its higher pH, surface area, and ash content. The pH of each treatment group was measured while the increase in ash content and surface area was inferred according to relevant literature. This biochar was then combined with soil and compost at rates ranging from 0 to 7.5% by dry weight to determine the proportion that optimally sorbed the contaminants. An application rate of 7.5% biochar by dry weight increased the soil mixture’s sorption capacity for Cd and Na while maintaining similar sorption of Cu, Zn, and Pb. The role of organic matter, such as that in compost, was especially important for the sorption of Zn and Cu. Hardwood biochar can thus improve the health of street trees and groundwater quality by sequestering trace metals and de-icing salts. Biochar can also be a useful tool to remediate contaminated soil, especially in urban environments.