Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Oct 1, 2019
Project End Date
Sep 30, 2024
Grant Year
Project Director
Elliott, HE.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Agri & Biological Engineering
Non Technical Summary
According to the USEPA, over 260 million tons of residual by-products, such as urban wastes (biosolids, recycled water, food scraps and other municipal solid waste), agricultural waste (manure), industrial sludges and waste byproducts are currently produced in the U.S. and approximately 9, 13, and 26% of these materials are either composted, combusted for energy recovery or recycled, respectively, while the remaining 52% are landfilled. In terms of material disposal, most of the biosolids, food scraps and yard trimmings are currently landfilled or incinerated at a substantial cost. Thus, increasing reuse of various residual materials such as soil amendments offers the potential to replace disposal costs with beneficial agronomic and environmental uses. There is ahigh demand for wastewater recycling and reuse for agricultural production. In addition, treated liquid wastes, such as wastewater effluent, recycled water and other non-potable waters, present opportunities for beneficial reuse in lieu of surface water discharge or expensive treatment.The project will aims toenable the development of guidelines for the sustainable use of a wide variety of residuals and residual by-products: maximizing benefits while minimizing the potential for unintended negative consequences.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Knowledge Area
403 - Waste Disposal, Recycling, and Reuse;

Subject Of Investigation
0199 - Soil and land, general;

Field Of Science
2000 - Chemistry;
Goals / Objectives
Objective #1 Evaluate the short- and long-term fate, bioavailability and persistence of trace organic contaminants (TOrCs) with an emphasis on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and pathogens in residuals, reclaimed water, and amended soils to aid in assessing and minimizing environmental and human health risks from their application at a watershed scale. Specific tasks: i) Quantify and evaluate the uptake, accumulation and transport of TOrCs in residuals, wastewaters and residuals- and wastewater-treated soils (e.g., agricultural, urban and brownfields); ii) Predict the long-term bioavailability, persistence and toxicity of TOrCs in residuals- and wastewater-amended soils; iii) Evaluate ecological effects of TOrCs from soils amended with residuals and reclaimed wastewaters; and iv) Evaluate long-term effects of residuals and wastewater application on the emergence/spread of antibiotic resistance. Objective #2 Evaluate and optimize the uses and associated environmental benefits of residuals and wastewaters applied to various ecosystems (e.g., agricultural, urban, recreational, forest, rangeland, mine-impacted, other anthropogenic) on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties and plant nutrition, health, and yield. Specific tasks: i) Quantify the effects of biosolids and other municipal, industrial, and agricultural residuals on indicators of soil health; ii) Quantify the effects of biosolids and other residuals on pollutant (TOrCs and metals/metalloids) availability, assimilation, phytotoxicity, and remediation; and iii) Develop and evaluate treatment strategies of residuals and wastewaters to reduce contaminant or pathogen loads.
Project Methods
Objective 1. Evaluate the short- and long-term fate, bioavailability and persistence of trace organic contaminants (TOrCs) with an emphasis on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in residuals, reclaimed water, and amended soils to aid in assessing and minimizing environmental and human health risks from their application at a watershed scale. Quantify and evaluate the uptake, accumulation and transport of trace organics in wastewaters, wastewater-treated soils, and groundwater underlying land application sites. Bimonhtly samples will be collected from the influent, effluent, and groundwater monitoring wells of the Living Filter spray irrigation system. Samples will be anaylzed for PFAS to assess their removal during wastewater treatment and their potential to be transported to groundwater.(Participants: Elliott, Preisendanz, Watson)Objective 2. Quantify the effects of land-applied biosolids and wastewater effluents onpollutant transport and availability and soil health and vegetative quality and growth. Samples of corn silage and cool-season grasses will be collected and analyzed for PFAS to assess the extent to which they are taken up by crops used as animal feed. Since odors are the greatest challenge to successful land-based recycling of biosolids and related residuals, the effects of biosolids storage time and turning on odor characteristics will be investigated. The use of biosolids to remediate drastically disturbed lands will also be demonstrated by evaluating the increase in vegetative ground cover one year after application.(Participants: Elliott, Preisendanz, Shannon)

Progress 10/01/19 to 09/30/20

Target Audience:The project efforts are aimed at agencies responsible for natural resource management, such as United States Department of Agriculture, PA Department of Agriculture, State Conservation Commission, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS);regulators such as PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP); municipalities dealing with disposal of effluents, biosolids, and water treatment residuals;and industries using the land for residuals disposal and recycling (mining, animal agriculture, composting, mushroom producers). Changes/Problems:While the contaminants of concern in the project objectives include trace organics, metals, and metalliods, the COVID pandemic has elevated the COVID-19 virus as a critical testing parameter for wastewater as a means of identifying locations of infected individuals within the wastewater collection system. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?In accomplishing the project objective, graduate students are being trained in environmental sample collection, data analysis, and technical report preparation. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Results of research work have been disseminated to the scientific community on an off campusthrough reports to Penn State's Wastewater Management Committee and national and regional scientific meetings of ASABE and Northeast Pasture Consortium. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?Wastewater generated at Penn State and the surrounding municipality is being tested for the COVID-19 virus as a measure of community prevalence and to target dorm testing and other other zones in the collection system. The wastewater is also being analyzed for over-the-counter and prescription medications known to be used to treat mild to severe symptoms of COVID-19 over time in "hot spot" zones.We will communicate the results of this project to a network of relevant stakeholders, including the general public and government officials and local and state levels. Additionally, the results will be communicated in a quick turn-around time (i.e., less than a week) with each of the wastewater treatment plants. It is expected that this information will be useful for community leaders as they make plans about re-opening and scaling back in response to near-real time information that this project can provide.

What was accomplished under these goals? Objective 1: The transport of nonionic chemicals, such as carbamazepine (CBZ) is highly dependent upon interaction with soil organic carbon. For such chemicals, the soil organic carbon content significantly impacts their fate and transport. If modeling efforts can incorporate the appropriate parameters, and results reflect observed field concentrations, this provides some increased confidence that incorporating field-based management decisions into the model will provide guidance regarding positive (or negative) soil and groundwater quality implications of practice change. Overall, the results of the CBZ modeling effort found that land use (forested land, crop land, grass land) impacted CBZ distribution in soil due to impacts on organic carbon content. In addition, the model results using literature-based sorption parameters determined independently from the site compared with soil sample data indicated that the coefficient of determination ranged from 0.63 to 0.96. Simulated values tended to provide an underestimation of total soil profile carbamazepine. This would indicate that sorption processes dependent upon parameters other than organic carbon may need to be incorporated into the model sorption term, in some instances. (Watson) Currently, no models with field-verified data that can aid land management decision-making exist for the wide range of cation exchange capacities (CECs) that are known to occur, persist, cause endocrine disruption in non-target species, and pose potential ecological and human health risks. Through a combined field, lab, and modeling approach, we are seeking to advance the current state of knowledge on the occurrence and mechanisms controlling fate and transport of CECs. Existing field data will be used to expand the widely used Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to develop abilities to simulate PFAS, pharmaceutical, and microplastics fate and transport. New modules have been developed for hormones and are currently being validated using existing data from the Penn State Agronomy Research Farm and from the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education. (Preisendanz) Over the past decade, the public has become increasingly aware of the presence and potential impacts of trace-level unregulated contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, PFAS (per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances), and microplastics in surface and groundwater. PFAS exposure has been linked to increases in immunotoxicity, developmental toxicity, hormonal disruption, hepatoxicity, and certain cancers. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) level of 70 ng/L for two of the most frequently detected compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Just this year (Feb 2020), the EPA has proposed a decision to regulate PFOS and PFOA in drinking water and is actively seeking to inform and engage the scientific public in order to understand and establish toxicity values for additional PFAS compounds. We are currently collecting samples from the Penn State wastewater treatment plant (influent and effluent), as well as from the monitoring wells at the Penn State Living Filter, to understand the occurrence, persistence, fate, and potential human health impacts of PFAS in a beneficial reuse system. Additionally, we are sampling crops for PFAS uptake to assess potential risks for livestock consumption.(Preisendanz, Watson, Elliott) Objective 2: A greenhouse study conducted to compare the use of dairy manure (36 mg/kgCu) and high-Cu biosolids (~1100 mg/kgCu) on the growth and composition of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) showed that ryegrass tissue Cu in the biosolids and manure treatments was statistically similar but well below phytotoxic levels reported in the literature. The manure and biosolids treatments resulted in statistically lower Al and Fe concentrations in the ryegrass tissue compared to the controls (soil only). Since other elements did not behave similarly, this could not be attributed to the "dilution effect" whereby rapid plant growth stimulated by addition of a deficient nutrient (e.g., N) resulted in lower (diluted) elemental tissue concentrations. Organic matter added via the biosolids and manure apparently complexed Al and Fe in forms that were not able to be taken up by plant roots and translocated to above-ground tissue. (Elliott)


  • Type: Journal Articles Status: Published Year Published: 2020 Citation: Filipovi, L., V. Filipovi, C. Williams, H. Preisendanz, C. Walker, J. Watson. 2020. Modeling carbamazepine transport in wastewater-irrigated soil under different land uses. J. Environ. Qual. 2020; 1-9. DOI: 10.1002/jeq2.20074
  • Type: Journal Articles Status: Published Year Published: 2020 Citation: Kibuye, F.A., H.E. Preisendanz, T.L. Veith, K.R. Elkin, H.A. Elliott, J.P. Harper, J.E. Watson. 2019. Influence of hydrologic and anthropogenic drivers on emerging organic contaminants in drinking water sources in the Susquehanna river basin. Chemosphere. Volume 245, April 2020, 125583
  • Type: Journal Articles Status: Published Year Published: 2020 Citation: Veith, T.L., H.E. Gall, K.R. Elkin. 2020. Characterizing transport of natural and anthropogenic constituents in a long-term agricultural watershed in the northeastern U.S. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 75(3):319-329.
  • Type: Conference Papers and Presentations Status: Published Year Published: 2020 Citation: Barnes, R., Gall, H.E., Watson, J.E., Rotz, C.A., and Elliott, H.A. 2020. Evaluating nutrient management approaches to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff from dairy farms in Central Pennsylvania. Poster presentation at The Northeast Pasture Consortium Conference, January 14-16, 2020, Lake Morey, VT
  • Type: Conference Papers and Presentations Status: Published Year Published: 2020 Citation: Chandler, J.W., H.E. Preisendanz, T.L. Veith, K.R. Elkin, H.A. Elliott, J.E. Watson, and P.J.A. Kleinman. 2020. Role of concentrated flow pathways on the movement of pesticides through agricultural fields and riparian buffer zones. ASABE Paper No. 2001630. American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, MI. 15 pp.
  • Type: Other Status: Published Year Published: 2019 Citation: Johnston, T.E., A.B. Stevens, L.C. Challenger, H.A. Elliott, R.C. Brandt, M. Taylor, L. Zurek, G. Evanylo, G. Felton, and W.E. Toffey. 2019. High Quality Biosolids from Wastewater. Final Report. Project NTRY7R15/4823. The Water Research Foundation, Alexandria, VA.