Septage Quality and its Effect on Field Life for Land Applications

Other Titles


Maintenance of the more than 24 million septic tanks in the US requires removal and disposal of septage. Disposal options include application to agricultural lands where the nutrients and organic matter can provide soil benefits. However, pathogens and contaminants are also contained in septage. An extensive search turned up very few data on septage quality, and those reveal high variability. The data used by USEPA in developing regulations had the lowest metal concentrations among the nine data sets that could be compared. Based on these data, EPA assumed that septage could be applied to agricultural land for more than 100 applications before reaching unacceptable cumulative loading of metals. They thus did not establish federal standards for metals in septage, and no monitoring is required under federal rules governing septage disposal. Analysis of the nine data sets we found showed that field site life would be reached in less than 100 applications for most septage and cumulative loading limits established by USEPA for sewage sludges will be exceeded in 16 applications for some septage as opposed to the 100 application estimate used by USEPA. Determination of acceptable cumulative loading depends on numerous technical and policy considerations. All septage sources reached the more restrictive loading limits such as those established by NYSDEC and the recommendations in Cornell publications in less than 100 applications. In one case the cumulative limit for copper was exceeded in a single application. These findings suggest additional data are needed on septage quality and that the federal and state agencies responsible for regulating application of septage to agricultural land should reassess their standards.

Journal / Series

Volume & Issue



Date Issued



Journal of the American Water Resources Association


septage; land application; Part 305 standards; septic tank; septic waste; loading limits and cumulative limits


Effective Date

Expiration Date




Union Local


Number of Workers

Committee Chair

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Degree Discipline

Degree Name

Degree Level

Related Version

Related DOI

Related To

Related Part

Based on Related Item

Has Other Format(s)

Part of Related Item

Related To

Related Publication(s)

Link(s) to Related Publication(s)


Link(s) to Reference(s)

Previously Published As

Government Document




Other Identifiers


Rights URI



Accessibility Feature

Accessibility Hazard

Accessibility Summary

Link(s) to Catalog Record