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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Survival of pathogenic and indicator bacteria in biosolids applied to agricultural land

G. J. Eamens A D , A. M. Waldron A B and P. J. Nicholls A C

A NSW Department of Primary Industries, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, PMB 8, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia.

B Present address: University of Sydney, PMB 3, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia.

C Present address: PO Box 20, Menangle, NSW 2568, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: graeme.eamens@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Australian Journal of Soil Research 44(7) 647-659 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR06015
Submitted: 2 February 2006  Accepted: 16 August 2006   Published: 20 October 2006

Abstract

Concentrations of surviving Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, and Salmonella spp. were determined temporally in mechanically dewatered biosolids derived from anaerobic–mesophilic digestion and applied to agricultural land. Following applications in different seasons, repeated assessments of bacterial concentrations in biosolid clumps, using most-probable-number (MPN) techniques, found sustained high levels of these bacteria. Bacterial concentrations were often well above soil background levels at 6 months, and in some cases 11–12 months, after land application. Survival in surface-applied biosolids was similar to that for biosolids incorporated into the soil, and between application rates of 10 or 30 dry t/ha. Salmonella concentrations in applied biosolids were not predicted from, and could exceed those of, the indicator organism E. coli. Multiple plot analyses indicated regrowth of E. coli and Salmonella can occur within biosolids, up to several months after application. However, Salmonella serovars likely to pose a significant risk to animal health were not detected among isolates from the dewatered biosolids. Reduced accessibility for grazing livestock by soil incorporation, together with the time taken for normal pasture establishment practices, and the limited pathogenicity of the vast majority of salmonellae present in biosolids may significantly reduce the risk of spread of these organisms to the human food chain.

Additional keywords: sewage sludge, survival, splines.


Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Sydney Water Corporation. The technical support of Kiley Seymour and Jocelyn Gonsalves during sample collection and bacteriological procedures is gratefully acknowledged. Dr Idris Barchia provided valuable assistance in the presentation of biometrical data.


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