Evidence Resources

Syntheses In Progress

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



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.


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

Who's in the review team?

Ida Envall
Fritjof Fagerlund
Lena Johansson Westholm
Charlotte Ã…berg
Arvid Bring
Magnus Land
Jon Petter Gustafsson

At what stage is the review?

Review in Progress

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