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Phytoremediation of sewage sludge contaminated by trace elements and organic compounds

Guidi Nissim, Werther, Cincinelli, Alessandra, Martellini, Tania, Alvisi, Laura, Palm, Emily, Mancuso, Stefano, Azzarello, Elisa
Environmental research 2018 v.164 pp. 356-366
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Helianthus annuus, Populus deltoides, Populus nigra, Salix matsudana, alkanes, arsenic, biomass production, chromium, copper, crop rotation, growing media, intercropping, lead, nutrient balance, nutrients, physiological response, phytoremediation, plant growth, pollutants, polychlorinated biphenyls, sewage sludge, soil fertility, zinc
Phytoremediation is a green technique being increasingly used worldwide for various purposes including the treatment of municipal sewage sludge (MSS). Most plants proposed for this technique have high nutrient demands, and fertilization is often required to maintain soil fertility and nutrient balance while remediating the substrate. In this context, MSS could be a valuable source of nutrients (especially N and P) and water for plant growth. The aim of this study was to determine the capacity willow (Salix matsudana, cv Levante), poplar (Populus deltoides × Populus nigra, cv Orion), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and sunflower (Helianthus annuus) to clean MSS, which is slightly contaminated by trace elements (TEs) and organic pollutants, and to assess their physiological response to this medium. In particular, we aimed to evaluate the TE accumulation by different species as well as the decrease of TEs and organic pollutants in the sludge after one cropping cycle and the effect of MSS on plant growth and physiology. Since MSS did not show any detrimental effect on the biomass yield of any of the species tested, it was found to be a suitable growing medium for these species. TE phytoextraction rates depended on the species, with eucalyptus showing the highest accumulation for Cr, whereas sunflower exhibited the best performance for As, Cu and Zn. At the end of the trial, some TEs (i.e. Cr, Pb and Zn), n-alkanes and PCBs showed a significant concentration decrease in the sludge for all tested species. The highest Cr decrease was observed in pots with eucalyptus (57.4%) and sunflower (53.4%), whereas sunflower showed the highest Cu decrease (44.2%), followed by eucalyptus (41.2%), poplar (16.2%) and willow (14%). A significant decrease (41.1%) of Pb in the eucalyptus was observed. Zn showed a high decrease rate with sunflower (59.5%) and poplar (52%) and to a lesser degree with willow (35.3%) and eucalyptus (25.4%). The highest decrease in n-alkanes concentration in the sludge was found in willow (98.3%) and sunflower (97.3%), whereas eucalyptus has the lowest PCBs concentration (91.8%) in the sludge compared to the beginning of the trial. These results suggest new strategies (e.g. crop rotation and intercropping) to be adopted for a better management of this phytotechnology.