Use of reactive materials to bind phosphorus

J Environ Qual. 2012 May-Jun;41(3):636-46. doi: 10.2134/jeq2011.0055.


Phosphorus (P) losses from agricultural soils have caused surface water quality impairment in many regions of the world, including The Netherlands. Due to the large amounts of P accumulated in Dutch soils, the generic fertilizer and manure policy will not be sufficient to reach in time the surface water quality standards of the European Water Framework Directive. Additional measures must be considered to further reduce P enrichment of surface waters. One option is to immobilize P in soils or manure or to trap P when it moves through the landscape by using reactive materials with a large capacity to retain P. We characterized and tested two byproducts of the process of purification of deep groundwater for drinking water that could be used as reactive materials: iron sludge and iron-coated sand. Both materials contain low amounts of inorganic contaminants, which also have a low (bio)availability, and bound a large amount of P. We could describe sorption of P to the iron sludge in batch experiments well with the kinetic Freundlich equation (Q = × t (m) × C(n)). Kinetics had a large influence on P sorption in batch and column experiments and should be taken into account when iron-containing materials are tested for their capability to immobilize or trap P. A negative aspect of the iron sludge is its low hydraulic conductivity; even when mixed with pure sand to a mixture containing 20% sludge, the conductivity was very low, and only 10% sludge may be needed before application is possible in filters or barriers for removing P from groundwater. Due to its much higher hydraulic conductivity, iron-coated sand has greater potential for use under field conditions. Immobilizing P could be an option for using iron sludge as a reactive material.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Phosphorus / chemistry*
  • Sewage / chemistry
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Water / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*
  • Water Purification / methods


  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water
  • Phosphorus
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Iron