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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

What evidence exists related to soil retention of phosphorus from on-site wastewater treatment systems in boreal and temperate climate zones? A systematic map protocol

Envall, Ida; Fagerlund, Fritjof; Westholm, Lena Johansson; aberg, Charlotte; Bring, Arvid; Land, Magnus; Gustafsson, Jon Petter;


Background Soil-based on-site wastewater treatment systems (OWSs) are suspected to contribute to eutrophication of surface waters, due to the discharge of phosphorus (P). However, along the flow path between the facilities and surface waters, different processes contribute to delay the transport of phosphorus through the ground. This may reduce the unwanted impact on receiving water bodies. However, the strength and significance of this so-called soil retention remains unclear.In Sweden, there are nearly one million OWSs. To protect surface waters, a high P removal rate (up to 90%) is often required by the local municipalities. However, since these requirements may have costly consequences to property owners, it is debated as to whether they are too strict. In this debate, it is often claimed that the retention of P occurring in natural environments may be underestimated by authorities. Accordingly, there is a need for a scrutiny of the available evidence related to soil retention of phosphorus from OWSs. This is the objective of the planned systematic map. Focus will be on boreal and temperate climate zones.Methods Searches will be made for peer-reviewed articles and grey literature using bibliographic databases, search engines, specialist websites and stakeholder contacts. The references will be screened for relevance according to a predefined set of eligibility criteria. At stage one, after testing and clarifying the eligibility criteria, the references will be single-screened based on title and abstract. At stage two, potentially relevant references will be screened in full-text independently by two reviewers. We will compile a detailed database of the relevant studies. Moreover, a narrative report will be produced, describing the research landscape in general terms. This will be carried out with a conceptual model, describing the processes involved in P retention in natural environments, as a foundation. It will be discussed where the respective studies/study types fit into the conceptual model, and also evaluated how each study/study type can be related to the overarching question of eutrophication. Moreover, we will describe identified knowledge gaps that warrant further primary research effort, as well as identified knowledge clusters that could be suitable for systematic reviews.


OWS; OWTS; Septic systems; Adsorption; Precipitation; Phosphorus removal; Infiltration; Eutrophication; Sweden

Published in

Environmental Evidence

2020, volume: 9, number: 1, article number: 22
Publisher: BMC

Authors' information

Envall, Ida
Swedish Research Council Formas
Fagerlund, Fritjof
Uppsala University
Westholm, Lena Johansson
Malardalen University
aberg, Charlotte
Swedish Research Council Formas
Bring, Arvid
Swedish Research Council Formas
Land, Magnus
Swedish Research Council Formas
Gustafsson, Jon Petter (Gustafsson, Jon-Petter)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment
Gustafsson, Jon Petter (Gustafsson, Jon-Petter)
Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

Associated SLU-program


Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water

UKÄ Subject classification

Water Treatment
Environmental Sciences

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)