Organic Chemicals in Sewage Sludges

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Sewage sludges are residues resulting from the treatment of wastewater released from various sources including homes, industries, medical facilities, street runoff and businesses. Sewage sludges contain nutrients and organic matter that can provide soil benefits and are widely used as soil amendments. They also, however, contain contaminants including metals, pathogens, and organic pollutants. Although current regulations require pathogen reduction and periodic monitoring for some metals prior to land application, there is no requirement to test sewage sludges for the presence of organic chemicals in the U. S. To help fill the gaps in knowledge regarding the presence and concentration of organic chemicals in sewage sludges, the peer-reviewed literature and official governmental reports were examined. Data were found for 516 organic compounds which were grouped into 15 classes. Concentrations were compared to EPA risk-based soil screening limits (SSLs) where available. For 6 of the 15 classes of chemicals identified, there were no SSLs. For the 79 reported chemicals which had SSLs, the maximum reported concentration of 86% exceeded at least one SSL. Eighty-three percent of the 516 chemicals were not on the EPA established list of priority pollutants and 80% were not on the EPA's list of target compounds. Thus analyses targeting these lists will detect only a small fraction of the organic chemicals in sludges. Analysis of the reported data shows that more data has been collected for certain chemical classes such as pesticides, PAHs and PCBs than for others that may pose greater risk such as nitrosamines. The concentration in soil resulting from land application of sludge will be a function of initial concentration in the sludge and soil, the rate of application, management practices and losses. Even for chemicals that degrade readily, if present in high concentrations and applied repeatedly, the soil concentrations may be significantly elevated. The results of this work reinforce the need for a survey of organic chemical contaminants in sewage sludges and for further assessment of the risks they pose.

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sludge; biosolids; land application


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Harrison EZ, Oakes SR, Hysell M, Hay A. Organic Chemicals in Sewage Sludges. Science of the Total Environment. 2006. 367:481-497

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