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Hazardous Industrial Site 'Cleaned Up' with Biosolid Soil

First Posted: Dec 09, 2015 01:20 PM EST

Industrial sites can be a pain to clean up. They're often littered with refuse and chemicals that can pose major environmental hazards. So how can they be cleaned up? Researchers have now found that using biosolids could be a way to clean up sites.

The Lake Calumet Cluster Site (LCCS) was once the home of five U.S. steel plants on the southeast side of Chicago. These days, it's an 87-acre wasteland of grassy slag, which is a rocky byproduct of steel manufacturing. In fact, 60 percent of the land there is bare rock.

In the past, the area used to be a wetland. But years of infill, dumping and excavation has rented the area inhospitable to plants and animals.

Over the past few years, the city has tried to restore the area. The hope is that it will become a stop for migratory birds along Lake Michigan's shoreline. However, restoration efforts of this scale are difficult. While at first restorers thought compost may be the key, it soon became apparent that it wouldn't be enough.

A good soil provides the right combination of depth, nutrients and texture to support bacteria, fungus, insects, and worms. Compost lacks essential plant nutrients, and is easily dispersed by rain and wind. That's why researchers decided to manufacture their own soil with help from the nearby wastewater treatment plant.

In this case, the researchers used the enormous amount of waste Chicago generates in order to create biosolids, which is a rebirthing of sewage into a clean, pathogen-free, nutrient-dense growing material. These biosolids have a wealth of organic matter and are full of plant nutrients, which make them perfect for this project.

The researchers tested the new soil on a test plot, which revealed that it was the best home for healthy bacteria, fungus and plants. In fact, it did far better than another test plot scattered with compost. The next step is to blend the biosolids and the compost in order to restore the region.

The findings are published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

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