Sewage sludge processing determines its impact on soil microbial community structure and function

S. Mattana, B. Petrovičová, L. Landi, A. Gelsomino, P. Cortés, O. Ortiz, G. Renella

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41 Citations (Scopus)


Composting and thermal drying are amongst the most commonly used post-digestion processes for allowing sanitation and biological stabilization of sewage sludge from municipal treatment plants, and making it suitable as soil conditioner for use in agriculture. To assess the impact of sludge-derived materials on soil microbial properties, fresh (LAF), composted (LAC) and thermally dried (LAT) sludge fractions, each resulting from a different post-treatment process of a same aerobically digested sewage sludge, were added at 1% (w/w) application rate on two contrasting (a loam and a loamy sand) soils and incubated under laboratory conditions for 28 days. Soil respiration, microbial ATP content, hydrolytic activities and arginine ammonification rate were monitored throughout the incubation period. Results showed that soil biochemical variables, including the metabolic quotient (qCO2), were markedly stimulated after sludge application, and the magnitude of this stimulatory effect was dependent on sludge type (precisely LAT>LAF>LAC), but not on soil type. This effect was related to the content of stable organic matter, which was lower in LAT. Genetic fingerprinting by PCR-DGGE revealed that compositional shifts of soil bacterial and, at greater extent, actinobacterial communities were responsive to the amendment with a differing sludge fraction. The observed time-dependent changes in the DGGE profiles of amended soils reflected the microbial turnover dependent on the sludge nutrient input, whereas no indications of adverse effects of sludge-borne contaminants were noted. Our findings indicate that composting rather thermal drying can represent a more appropriate post-digestion process to make sewage sludge suitable for use as soil conditioner in agriculture. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-161
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


  • Bacterial community structure
  • Heavy metals
  • Microbial activity
  • Organic contaminants
  • Post-digestion treatments
  • Sludge amendments


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