A method for measuring low-weight carboxylic acids from biosolid compost

Marina Himanen (Corresponding Author), Kyösti Latva-Kala, Merja Itävaara, Kari Hänninen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Concentration of low-weight carboxylic acids (LWCA) is one of the important parameters that should be taken into consideration when compost is applied as soil improver for plant cultivation, because high amounts of LWCA can be toxic to plants. The present work describes a method for analysis of LWCA in compost as a useful tool for monitoring compost quality and safety. The method was tested on compost samples of two different ages: 3 (immature) and 6 (mature) months old. Acids from compost samples were extracted at high pH, filtered, and freeze-dried. The dried sodium salts were derivatized with a sulfuric acid–methanol mixture and concentrations of 11 low-weight fatty acids (C1–C10) were analyzed using headspace gas chromatography. The material was analyzed with two analytical techniques: the external calibration method (tested on 11 LWCA) and the standard addition method (tested only on formic, acetic, propionic, butyric, and iso-butyric acids). The two techniques were compared for efficiency of acids quantification. The method allowed good separation and quantification of a wide range of individual acids with high sensitivity at low concentrations. Detection limit for propionic, butyric, caproic, caprylic, and capric acids was 1 mg kg−1 compost; for formic, acetic, valeric, enanthoic and pelargonic acids it was 5 mg kg−1 compost; and for iso-butyric acid it was 10 mg kg−1 compost. Recovery rates of LWCA were higher in 3-mo-old compost (57–99%) than in 6-mo-old compost (29–45%). In comparison with the external calibration technique the standard addition technique proved to be three to four times more precise for older compost and two times for younger compost. Disadvantages of the standard addition technique are that it is more time demanding and laborious.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-521
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • LWCA
  • low-weight carboxylic acids


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