Biosolids compost amendment for reducing soil lead hazards: A pilot study of Orgro® amendment and grass seeding in urban yards

Mark R. Farfel, Anna O. Orlova, Rufus L. Chaney, Peter S.J. Lees, Charles Rohde, Peter J. Ashley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In situ inactivation of soil Pb is an alternative to soil removal and replacement that has been demonstrated in recent years at industrial sites with hazardous soil Pb concentrations. Most children exposed to elevated soil Pb, however, reside in urban areas, and no government programs exist to remediate such soils unless an industrial source caused the contamination. Modern regulated biosolids composts have low Pb concentrations and low bioaccessible Pb fractions and can improve grass growth on urban soils. High Fe and P biosolids composts can reduce the bioavailability and bioaccessibility of soil Pb and can aid in establishing vegetation that would reduce soil transfer into homes. For these reasons, we conducted a field test of their use to reduce Pb bioaccessibility in urban soils in Baltimore, MD USA. We chose biosolids compost for its expected reduction in the bioaccessible Pb fraction of urban soils, ease of use by urban residents, and ability to beautify urban areas. Nine urban yards with mean soil Pb concentrations >800 mg Pb kg-1 were selected and sampled at several distances from the house foundation before soil treatment. The soils were rototilled to 20 cm depth to prepare the sites, and resampled. The yards were then amended with 6-8 cm depth of Orgro® biosolids compost (110-180 dry t/ha) rich in Fe and P, mixed well by rototilling, and resampled. Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) was seeded and became well established. Soils were resampled 1 year later. At each sampling time, total soil Pb was measured using a modified U.S. EPA nitric acid hotplate digestion method (SW 846 Method 3050) and bioaccessible Pb fraction was measured using the Solubility/Bioaccesibility Research Consortium standard operating procedure with modifications, including the use of glycine-buffered HCl at pH 2.2. Samples of untreated soils were collected from each yard and mixed well to serve as controls for the Pb bioaccessibility of field treated soils over time independent of positional variance within yards. At 1-year post-treatment, grass cover was healthy and reductions in bioaccessible Pb concentrations compared to pre-tillage were 64% (from 1655 to 595 mg kg-1) and 67% (from 1381 to 453 mg kg-1) at the sampling lines closest to the houses. Little or no reduction in bioaccessible Pb concentration was observed at sampling lines more remote from the house that also had the lowest bioaccessible Pb concentrations at pre-tillage (620 and 436 mg kg-1, respectively). For the control soils, changes over time in total Pb and bioaccessible Pb concentrations and the bioaccessible Pb fraction were insignificant. This study confirms the viability of in situ remediation of soils in urban areas where children are at risk of high Pb exposure from lead in paint, dust and soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-95
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 20 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Field test
  • In situ lead remediation
  • Lead hazard remediation
  • Soil amendment
  • Soil lead

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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