Mobility and toxicity of heavy metal(loid)s arising from contaminated wood ash application to a pasture grassland soil

L C Mollon, G J Norton, L Trakal, E Moreno-Jimenez, F.Z. Elouali, R.L. Hough, L Beesley

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Heavy metal(loid) rich ash (≤10,000 mg kg−1 total As, Cr, Cu and Zn) originating from the combustion of contaminated wood was subjected to several experimental procedures involving its incorporation into an upland pasture soil. Ash was added to soil that had been prior amended with local cattle manure, replicating practices employed at the farm scale. Metal(loid) concentrations were measured in soil pore water and ryegrass grown on soil/manure plus ash mixtures (0.1–3.0% vol. ash) in a pot experiment; toxicity evaluation was performed on the same pore water samples by means of a bacterial luminescence biosensor assay. Thereafter a sequential extraction procedure was carried out on selected soil, manure and ash mixtures to elucidate the geochemical association of ash derived metal(loid)s with soil constituents. Predictive modelling was applied to selected data from the pot experiment to determine the risk of transfer of As to meat and milk products in cattle grazing pasture amended with ash. The inclusion of manure to soils receiving ash reduced phyto-toxicity and increased ryegrass biomass yields, compared to soil with ash, but without manure. Elevated As and Cu concentrations in pore water and ryegrass tissue resulting from ash additions were reduced furthest by the inclusion of manure due to an increase in their geochemical association with organic matter. Zinc was the only measured metal(loid) to remain uniformly soluble and bioavailable regardless of the addition of ash and manure. Risk modelling on pot experimental data highlighted that an ash addition of >1% (vol.) to this pasture soil could result in As concentrations in milk and meat products exceeding acceptable limits. The results of this study therefore suggest that even singular low doses of ash applied to soil increase the risk of leaching of metal(loid)s and intensify the risk of As transfer in the food chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-427
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date18 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

The authors acknowledge the financial support the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Sciences and Analytical Services (RESAS) in order to complete some of the soil and pore water sample analysis as well as the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (COST CZ LD13068), the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR 14-02183P) and EU COST actionFP1407 (‘ModWoodLife’) short term scientific mission grant in order to complete the column leaching test.


  • heavy metal toxicity
  • wood ash
  • pore water
  • arsenic
  • chromium
  • risk modelling


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