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Volume 2, Pages 407-420
Mini-Review Article

Bioremediation of Heavy Metals and Organic Toxicants by Composting

Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

Received 11 October 2001; Revised 30 November 2001; Accepted 4 December 2001

Copyright © 2002 Allen V. Barker and Gretchen M. Bryson.


Hazardous organic and metallic residues or by-products can enter into plants, soils, and sediments from processes associated with domestic, municipal, agricultural, industrial, and military activities. Handling, ingestion, application to land or other distributions of the contaminated materials into the environment might render harm to humans, livestock, wildlife, crops, or native plants. Considerable remediation of the hazardous wastes or contaminated plants, soils, and sediments can be accomplished by composting. High microbial diversity and activity during composting, due to the abundance of substrates in feedstocks, promotes degradation of xenobiotic organic compounds, such as pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For composting of contaminated soils, noncontaminated organic matter should be cocomposted with the soils. Metallic pollutants are not degraded during composting but may be converted into organic combinations that have less bioavailability than mineral combinations of the metals. Degradation of organic contaminants in soils is facilitated by addition of composted or raw organic matter, thereby increasing the substrate levels for cometabolism of the contaminants. Similar to the composting of soils in vessels or piles, the on-site addition of organic matter to soils (sheet composting) accelerates degradation of organic pollutants and binds metallic pollutants. Recalcitrant materials, such as organochlorines, may not undergo degradation in composts or in soils, and the effects of forming organic complexes with metallic pollutants may be nonpermanent or short lived. The general conclusion is, however, that composting degrades or binds pollutants to innocuous levels or into innocuous compounds in the finished product.