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Long-term impacts of biosolids on soil microbial communities during mine tailings reclamation

  • Project Leaders: Jonathan Van Hamme, Jaimie Dickson, Tania Gheseger, Roz Kempe
  • Institutions: Thompson Rivers University (TRU)
  • Budget: $191,322
  • Competition: User Partnership Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome BC
  • Fiscal Year: 2016
  • Status: Active

Through the BC Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment), Metro Vancouver and other BC wastewater treatment facilities are encouraged to deploy nutrient-rich biosolids in beneficial ways rather than send the resource to landfills. Metro Vancouver has worked with BC’s mining community for 25 years, reclaiming over 800 hectares of disturbed mine landscapes using biosolids.

Although biosolids have been used in BC mine reclamation for over 20 years, recent high-profile protests by First Nations and community groups in the central interior of British Columbia may result in the termination of their application. In June 2015, the BC Ministry of Environment mandated a Scientific Review of biosolids use in the Nicola Valley, establishing an Advisory Committee and a Technical Working Group to conduct the review which will inform changes to biosolids regulations in BC.

Long-term data is extremely important to address key information gaps identified by the review. As such, the existing research plots at the Highland Valley Copper site (HVC) are of critical importance because they are the only long term biosolids mine reclamation plots in BC that are still in-place, are accessible and include controls. The priority of the research project at HVC is to examine soil health. However, other genomic investigations (e.g., pathogens) can also be addressed.

The overall objective of the collaborative research program between Metro Vancouver, Highland Valley Copper (Teck), and Thompson Rivers University (TRU) will quantify long-term biosolids effects on plant and microbial communities, soil health and metal loading by re-sampling from the undisturbed HVC experimental plots established in 1998. A comprehensive microbial community analysis using a Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) approach in combination with quantitative PCR will be used to monitor microbial gene expression related to metal toxicity and transformations.

The outcomes of the overall research program will include ecological (for Teck and Metro Vancouver) and social data (for Metro Vancouver) on the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of long term biosolids application in mine reclamation. Outcomes from this study will inform the Scientific Review of biosolids and have a direct impact on biosolids regulatory and use practices in BC.