Mobility and uptake of zinc, cadmium, nickel, and lead in sludge-amended soils planted to dryland maize and irrigated maize-oat rotation

J Environ Qual. 2015 Mar;44(2):655-67. doi: 10.2134/jeq2014.06.0261.


Sludge application to agricultural lands is often limited mainly because of concerns about metal accumulation in soils and uptake by crops. The objective of the study was to test the following hypotheses: (i) in the short to medium term (5-10 yr), the application of good-quality sludge according to crop N requirements will not lead to significant accumulation of water-soluble metal fractions in soil, (ii) mobility and uptake of metals is higher under irrigated than dryland systems, and (iii) metal concentrations in plant tissue could reach phytotoxic levels before the soil reaches environmental threshold levels. Field plots were arranged in a randomized complete block design comprising four replications of three treatments (0, 8, and 16 Mg ha yr anaerobically digested municipal sludge) planted to dryland maize and irrigated maize-oat rotation. Soil and plant samples were collected after 7 yr of treatment application for selected metal analyses. A large fraction of the Zn, Ni, and Pb in the soil profile was ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid extractable (46-79%). Saturated paste-extractable fractions of Cd and Pb were <1 mg kg. Plant uptake of Cd, Pb, and Ni under irrigation was double that for dryland systems. Concentrations of the metals considered in plant tissue of both cropping systems remained well below phytotoxic levels, except for Zn under dryland maize, which received 16 Mg sludge ha yr. Metal concentrations in the soil remained far below total maximum threshold levels. Therefore, hypotheses 1 and 3 were accepted for the metals considered, and hypothesis 2 was rejected for Zn.