Biotransformation and accumulation of arsenic in soil amended with seaweed.

Andrew Alexander Meharg

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76 Citations (Scopus)


For many coastal regions of the world, it has been common practice to apply seaweed to the land as a soil improver and fertilizer. Seaweed is rich in arsenosugars and has a tissue concentration of arsenic up to 100 mug g(-1). These arsenic species are relatively nontoxic to humans; however, in the environment they may accumulate in the soil and decompose to more toxic arsenic species. The aim of this study was to determine the fate and biotransformation of these arsenosugars in soil using HPLC-ICPIVIS analysis. Data from coastal soils currently manured with seaweeds were used to investigate if arsenic was accumulating in these soils. Long-term application of seaweed increased arsenic concentrations in these soils up to 10-fold (0.35 mg of As kg(-1) for nonagronomic peat, 4.3 mg of As kg(-1) for seaweed-amended peat). The biotransformation of arsenic was studied in microcosm experiments in which a sandy (machair) soil, traditionally manured with seaweed, was amended with Laminaria digitata and Fucus vesiculosus. In both seaweed species, the arsenic occurs in the form of arsenosugars (85%). The application of 50 g of seaweed to I kg of soil leads to an increase of arsenic in the soils, and the dominating species found in the soil pore water were dimethyl-arsinic acid (DMA(V)) and the inorganic species arsenate (As(V)) and arsenite (As(III)) after the initial appearance of arsenosugars. A proposed decomposition pathway of arsenosugars is discussed in which the arsenosugars are transformed to DMA(V) and further to inorganic arsenic without appreciable amounts of methylarsonic acid (MA(V)). Commercially available seaweed-based fertilizers contain arsenic concentration between 10 and 50 mg kg(-1). The arsenic species in these fertilizers depends on the manufacturing procedure. Some contain mainly arsenosugars while others contain mainly DMA(V) and inorganic arsenic. With the application rates suggested by the manufacturers, the application of these fertilizers is 2 orders of magnitude lower than the maximum permissible sewage sludge load for arsenic (varies from 0.025 kg ha(-1) yr(-1) in Styria, Austria, to 0.7 kg ha(-1) yr(-1) in the U.K.), while a direct seaweed application would exceed the maximum arsenic load by at least a factor of 2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-957
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • ICP-MS
  • arsenosugar
  • compound
  • MS/MS
  • algae


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