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Ottander, Nora, 2022. Distribution and transport of microplastics and metals in sewage sludge-amended agricultural soil : a Comparative study between microplastics copper, cadmium, and nickel. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Soil and Environment



This thesis investigated the vertical transport of microplastics and metals in agricultural soil after
sewage sludge application. Sewage sludge is commonly used in agriculture for adding nutrients and
carbon to improve the soil quality. From a bio-based economy perspective, it is considered an
important strategy to re-use this nutrient-rich by-product from wastewater treatment plants.
However, the application of sewage sludge can also lead to unintentional spreading of unwanted
elements to the soil, such as microplastics and metals. While extensive studies have been carried out
to examine the environmental fate of metals in different soils, little is known about the emerging
pollutant microplastics. Hence, the aim of this study was to investigate the distribution and transport
of microplastics in direct comparison to more investigated metals. Moreover, this study compared
microplastic and metal distributions in field measurements and in a laboratory-based process study
where plastic and metal transport were studied under the influence of either earthworm bioturbation
or simulated rainfall using intact soil cores, given that transferring results from controlled
experiments to field conditions can often be difficult. The initial hypothesis was that there might be
similarities between the transport of microplastics and particulate-bound metals, whereas dissolved
metals were expected more mobile in the soil profile compared to microplastics. Secondly,
bioturbation activity was suspected to contribute significantly to plastic transport. The distribution
of microplastics showed spatial similarities to the distribution of copper and cadmium in depth
profiles of agricultural soils after long-term sewage sludge application. Since copper and cadmium
tend to bind to soil organic matter or clay particles, the results indicate that similar transport
processes may affect microplastic transport in the field. Limited transport of microplastics was
observed under controlled conditions in the laboratory in the presence of earthworms, but no
significant metal transport could be detected in the intact soil columns. Overall, the results from the
process study indicate that transport of microplastics and metals was limited compared to previous
findings. The dense clay soil used in the intact soil columns and an apparent lack of macro-pores
may have prevented advective transport and caused a high mechanical resistance preventing
transport via earthworm mediated bioturbation. Thus, suggesting that translocation of MPs in clayey
soil may not be as fast as earlier bioturbation studies have observed. This means that the MPs are
likely accumulated within the upper part of the soil profile and retained within the soil. However,
the generalisation of this finding is limited, since only one soil was examined, and the process study
was short in time and consisted of few replicate soil columns. Continued research on this topic needs
to be done to establish the transport processes and fate of MPs in terrestrial ecosystems.
Keywords: Bioturbation, advective transport, earthworm, Aporrectodea longa

Main title:Distribution and transport of microplastics and metals in sewage sludge-amended agricultural soil
Subtitle:a Comparative study between microplastics copper, cadmium, and nickel
Authors:Ottander, Nora
Supervisor:Cornelis, Geert and Heinze, Wiebke Mareile
Examiner:Gustafsson, Jon-Petter
Series:Examensarbeten / Institutionen för mark och miljö, SLU
Volume/Sequential designation:2022:16
Year of Publication:2022
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:NM028 Sustainable Food Systems - Master's Programme, 120.0hp
Supervising department:(NL, NJ) > Dept. of Soil and Environment
Keywords:Bioturbation, advective transport, earthworm, Aporrectodea longa
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Soil chemistry and physics
Deposited On:25 Nov 2022 09:36
Metadata Last Modified:26 Nov 2022 02:01

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