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Modelling the fate of PAH added with composts in amended soil according to the origin of the exogenous organic matter

Khaled Brimo (a,b,c), Stéphanie Ouvrard (b), Sabine Houot (a), François Lafolie (d), Patricia Garnier (a)

Brimo & al., 2018
Brimo & al., Science of The Total Environment, 616–617, (2018), Pages 658-668

The recycling of composted organic residues in soils is a practice that is increasingly used in agriculture. It helps to prevent the loss of soil fertility by restoring soil organic matter contents as well as improving soil physical properties [1]. However, certain organic pollutants, among them polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), may be present in the feedstock materials of these composts, leading to a soil contamination risk when they are recycled in agricultural areas [2]. It is of special importance to understand the dissipation of PAH that is added to soils with composted organic residues. Indeed, little is known about the impact of the composting process and the final quality of composts on the fate of PAHs in soil according to their physico-chemical properties. This study presents a new model that was able to simulate the fates of PAH during composting and after the addition of the composts to agricultural soil.

Main results

This model associates modules that describe the physical, biological and biochemical processes involved in PAH dynamics in soils, along with a module describing the compost degradation resulting in PAH release. The aims of the present work were threefold:

  • Use an experimental approach to study the impact of the compost quality (for three composts consisting of green waste and sludge compost, biowaste compost, and municipal solid waste compost) on the fate of PAHs in composts and after compost applications to soil for three different 14C-labeled PAHs (phenanthrene, PHE, fluoranthene, FLT and benzo(a)pyrene, BAP)
  • Propose a new coupled model to study the dynamics of PAHs in soil-compost mixture systems that explicitly accounts for the type of organic amendments on the fate of the PAHs during the decomposition of compost in the soil
  • Calibrate the model with the experimental data and compare the kinetics of mineralization (figure 1) and dissipation for each PAH according to the compost quality

Figure 1: kinetics of the phenanthrene mineralization according to the 3 types of compost

The model was calibrated from laboratory incubations using three 14C-PAHs, phenanthrene, fluoranthene and benzo(a)pyrene, and three different composts consisting of two mature and one non-mature composts (figure 2).

fig.2 Brimo 2018

Figure 2 : (a) Schematic design of the incubation experiments over 83 days. There were three incubation series as follows: ❶ pure compost, ❷ soil-compost mixtures, and ❸ control unamended soil. For each of the first and second incubations, three different composts were incubated independently, and they were GWS, MSW and BioW. Each incubation was performed with each of the labelled pollutants (PHE, FLT and BAP). All the incubations were run in triplicates. (b) A schematic overview of the modelling methodology. There were 83 days of simulation for the data in series ❶ (3 treatments corresponding to 3 composts) to determine the mass ratio between the biogenic, PAHBs, and physical PAHss, with nonextractible residues at the 28th incubation day, which was the initial day of the incubations for the compost-soil mixtures. The model was run simultaneously in calibration mode over 55 days and 83 days, using the data in series ❷ (3 treatments corresponding to 3 amended soils) and the data in series ❸ (control unamended soil) to determine the parameter distribution set of the PAH model for each PAH.

Our results showed that processes occurring before the compost application to the soil strongly influenced the fate of PAHs in the soil. The PAH dissipation during compost incubation was higher in mature composts because of the higher specific microbial activity, while the PAH dissipation in amended soil was higher in the non-mature compost because of the higher availability of PAHs and the higher co-metabolic microbial activity. Finally, the model calculates the proportion of biogenic and physically bound residues of PAHs.

Full article: Click here


1. Tejada, M., Hernandez, M.T., Garcia, C., 2009. Soil restoration using composted plant residues: Effects on soil properties. Soil Tillage Res. 102 (1), 109–117.

2. Brändli, R.C., Bucheli, T.D., Kupper, T., Furrer, R., Stadelmann, F.X., Tarradellas, J., 2005. Persistent organic pollutants in source-separated compost and its feedstock materials–a review of field studies. J. Environ. Qual. 34 (3), 735–760.


a UMR EcoSys, INRA, AgroParisTech, Université Paris-Saclay, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France

b UMR Laboratoire Sols et Environnement, INRA, Université de Lorraine, 54518 Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France

c Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie, 20 avenue du Grésillé, BP 90406, F-49004 Angers Cedex 01, France

d UMR EMMAH, INRA, UAPV, 84914 Avignon 9, France