Analysis of matrix effects critical to microbial transport in organic waste-affected soils across laboratory and field scales

Adrian Unc, Michael J. Goss, Simon Cook, Xunde Li, Edward R Atwill, Thomas Harter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Organic waste applications to soil (manure, various wastewaters, and biosolids) are among the most significant sources of bacterial contamination in surface and groundwater. Transport of bacteria through the vadose zone depends on flow path geometry and stability and is mitigated by interaction between soil, soil solution, air-water interfaces, and characteristics of microbial surfaces. After initial entry, the transport through soil depends on continued entrainment of bacteria and resuspension of those retained in the porous structure. We evaluated the retention of bacteria-sized artificial microspheres, varying in diameter and surface charge and applied in different suspending solutions, by a range of sieved soils contained in minicolumns, the transport of hydrophobic bacteria-sized microspheres through undisturbed soil columns as affected by waste type under simulated rainfall, and the field-scale transport of Enterococcus spp. to an unconfined sandy aquifer after the application of liquid manure. Microsphere retention reflected microsphere properties. The soil type and suspending solution affected retention of hydrophilic but not hydrophobic particles. Retention was not necessarily facilitated by manure-microsphere-soil interactions but by manure-soil interactions. Undisturbed column studies confirmed the governing role of waste type on vadose-zone microsphere transport. Filtration theory applied as an integrated analysis of transport across length scales showed that effective collision efficiency depended on the distance of travel. It followed a power law behavior with the power coefficient varying from ∼0.4 over short distances to >0.9 over 1 m (i.e., very little filtration for a finite fraction of biocolloids), consistent with reduced influence of soil solution and biocolloid properties at longer travel distances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW00L12
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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