Extent and Impact of Microplastics on Availability of Soil Nutrients: A Trade-off Assessment

Jesionkowska, Joanna; Araya, Yoseph; Anand, Pallavi; Vale, Peter and Fraser, Wesley (2023). Extent and Impact of Microplastics on Availability of Soil Nutrients: A Trade-off Assessment. In: SETAC Europe 33rd Annual Meeting, 30 Apr - 4 May 2023, Dublin, Ireland, pp. 357–358.

URL: https://europe2023.setac.org/wp-content/uploads/20...


Ever since the invention of plastics, Microplastic (MPs) pieces are spread ubiquitously, however previous studies mainly had focused on pollution in aquatic systems. More recently, research is focusing on the fate and impact of microplastics on terrestrial ecosystems. In this connection, urban and agricultural soils are an important long-term sink for microplastics. Microplastics may enter the soil through application of sewage sludge and compost, irrigation, plastic mulching, littering, as well as atmospheric deposition. Microplastics in soil undergo translocation, erosion, degradation, and leach to groundwater, before subsequently taken up by plants and get transferred along the food chain.

While water treatment plants effectively remove microplastics from influent water, microplastics get concentrated in the sludge. This sewage is subsequently spread in agricultural soils for crop production. On the positive side, sewage sludge can supply a large part of the nitrogen or phosphorus that most crops need. It’s also a good source of organic matter that can improve the water-retaining capacity and structure of soil. On the other hand, sludge often contains potentially toxic elements, such as heavy metals, pathogens, antibiotics, as well as microplastics. Once in soil, microplastics could induce changes in soil fertility and also pose a potential threat to plant performance and crop productivity.

The objective of this study is to review the extent of microplastics added from the sludge on agricultural land, the potential impacts of sludge amendment on nutrient availability and soil biota. The current study will analyse the data about sludge application and nutrients levels from farmland in central UK and relate these levels in soil with amount of added microplastics.

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