Review of ‘emerging’ organic contaminants in biosolids and assessment of international research priorities for the agricultural use of biosolids

Environment International. 2011;37(1):226-247


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Environment International

ISSN: 0160-4120 (Print)

Publisher: Elsevier

LCC Subject Category: Geography. Anthropology. Recreation: Environmental sciences

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Bradley O. Clarke (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom)

Stephen R. Smith (Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 20 75946051; fax: +44 20 75941511.; Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 12 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

A broad spectrum of organic chemicals is essential to modern society. Once discharged from industrial, domestic and urban sources into the urban wastewater collection system they may transfer to the residual solids during wastewater treatment and assessment of their significance and implications for beneficial recycling of the treated sewage sludge biosolids is required. Research on organic contaminants (OCs) in biosolids has been undertaken for over thirty years and the increasing body of evidence demonstrates that the majority of compounds studied do not place human health at risk when biosolids are recycled to farmland. However, there are 143,000 chemicals registered in the European Union for industrial use and all could be potentially found in biosolids. Therefore, a literature review of ‘emerging’ OCs in biosolids has been conducted for a selection of chemicals of potential concern for land application based upon human toxicity, evidence of adverse effects on the environment and endocrine disruption.To identify monitoring and research priorities the selected chemicals were ranked using an assessment matrix approach. Compounds were evaluated based upon environmental persistence, human toxicity, evidence of bioaccumulation in humans and the environment, evidence of ecotoxicity and the number and quality of studies focussed on the contaminant internationally. The identified chemicals of concern were ranked in decreasing order of priority: perfluorinated chemicals (PFOS, PFOA); polychlorinated alkanes (PCAs), polychlorinated naphthalenes (PCNs); organotins (OTs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), triclosan (TCS), triclocarban (TCC); benzothiazoles; antibiotics and pharmaceuticals; synthetic musks; bisphenol A, quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs), steroids; phthalate acid esters (PAEs) and polydimethylsiloxanes (PDMSs).A number of issues were identified and recommendations for the prioritisation of further research and monitoring of 'emerging' OCs for the agricultural use of biosolids are provided. In particular, a number of ‘emerging’ OCs (PFOS, PFOA and PCAs) were identified for priority attention that are environmentally persistent and potentially toxic with unique chemical properties, or are present in large concentrations in sludge, that make it theoretically possible for them to enter human and ecological food-chains from biosolids-amended soil. Keywords: Sewage sludge, Biosolids, Land application, Antibiotics, Pharmaceuticals, Benzothiazoles, Bisphenol A, Organotins, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, Polychlorinated alkanes, Polychlorinated naphthalenes, Polydimethylsiloxanes, Perfluorochemicals, Phthalate acid esters, Quaternary ammonium compounds, Steroids, Hormones, Synthetics musks, Triclosan, Triclocarban