Since late 1993, the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District of Denver (Metro District), a large wastewater treatment plant in Denver, Colorado, has applied Grade I, Class B biosolids to about 52,000 acres of nonirrigated farmland and rangeland near Deer Trail, Colorado (U.S.A.). In cooperation with the Metro District in 1993, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began monitoring ground water at part of this site. In 1999, the USGS began a more comprehensive monitoring study of the entire site to address stakeholder concerns about the potential chemical effects of biosolids applications to water, soil, and vegetation. This more comprehensive monitoring program recently has been extended through 2010. Monitoring components of the more comprehensive study include biosolids collected at the wastewater treatment plant, soil, crops, dust, alluvial and bedrock ground water, and streambed sediment. Streams at the site are dry most of the year, so samples of streambed sediment deposited after rain were used to indicate surface-water effects. This report will present only analytical results for the biosolids samples collected at the Metro District wastewater treatment plant in Denver and analyzed during 2007. We have presented earlier a compilation of analytical results for the biosolids samples collected and analyzed for 1999 through 2006. More information about the other monitoring components is presented elsewhere in the literature. Priority parameters for biosolids identified by the stakeholders and also regulated by Colorado when used as an agricultural soil amendment include the total concentrations of nine trace elements (arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and zinc), plutonium isotopes, and gross alpha and beta activity. Nitrogen and chromium also were priority parameters for ground water and sediment components.
In general, the objective of each component of the study was to determine whether concentrations of priority parameters (1) were higher than regulatory limits, (2) were increasing with time, or (3) were significantly higher in biosolids-applied areas than in a similar farmed area where biosolids were not applied.
Previous analytical results indicate that the elemental composition of the biosolids from the Denver plant was consistent during 1999-2006 and this consistency continues with the samples for 2007; total concentrations of regulated trace elements remained consistently lower than the regulatory limits for the entire monitoring period.
Our previously reported data (1999-2006) and data presented in this report were used to compile an inorganic-chemical biosolids signature that can be contrasted with the geochemical signature for this site. The biosolids signature and an understanding of the geology and hydrology of the site can be used to separate biosolids effects from natural geochemical effects. Elements of particular interest for a biosolids signature include bismuth, copper, silver, mercury, phosphorus, and silver.
An alternative method of digestion of biosolids was also recently investigated, and the results are presented in this report. A microwave digestion using only nitric acid at controlled elevated temperature and pressure was tested to replace the much more time-consuming and labor-intensive, traditional four-acid, hotplate method for the preparation of solutions to be analyzed by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Elements of concern determined by ICP-MS following digestion include cadmium, copper, lead, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc. The microwave 'digestion' proved to be a strong acid leach, and it was less efficient at digesting the biosolids samples with consistently lower recoveries (compared to the four-acid digestion value) for most elements, but especially for the elements of concern - copper, nickel, and zinc. Other elements traditionally associated with the silicate or oxide minerals demonstrated low recoveries, especially titaniu
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Analytical Results for Municipal Biosolids Samples from a Monitoring Program near Deer Trail, Colorado (U.S.A.), 2007