employ several types of treatment processes.
Preliminaryand primary treatments, often called physical treatments,
In secondary, or biological, treatment,naturally occurring bacteria are added to the remaining sol-ids to help break down and digest organic compounds.
But not all POTWs employ an additional, advanced level of treatment known as tertiary treatment. In fact, it’s estimatedthat only 2 percent of the nation’s wastewater treatmentfacilities provide tertiary treatment.
Tertiary, or advanced,treatment is used to remove excess nutrients like phospho-rous through a variety of physical, biological or chemicalprocesses.
-tempts to kill any remaining pathogens, typically throughchlorination or the use of ultraviolet rays.
While wastewater treatment processes do eliminate manyof the harmful bacteria and viruses in sludge, they are notdesigned to remove the hundreds of tons of pharmaceuticalsand personal care products (PPCPs) used annually in theU.S.
Most PPCPs used by consumers end up in wastewaterin exactly the same form as before they were used.
Un-fortunately, sludge remains riddled with pesticides such astriclosan, over-the-counter drugs and heavy metals such aslead, copper and mercury that are known to have negativeeffects on human health.
-geted National Sewage Sludge Survey” (TNSSS), a multi-yearproject designed to characterize the pollutants in sludge.EPA collected sludge samples from 74 nationally representa-
retardants, 25 steroids and hormones, 28 metals and 72
of the land-application ceiling.
pharmaceutical chemicals in sludge; they were also foundin the highest concentrations in sludge samples.
commonly detected antibiotic.
Unfortunately, the surveydid not look for any of the other 80,000 or more chemicalsthat are made in the United States.
In 2008, the EPA conducted a study to determine the extent
-ing and fabric as stain-resisting coatings, and in nonstickcookware.
in wildlife and humans, and persistent in the environment,”
-life, producing reproductive, developmental, and systemiceffects in laboratory tests.”
sludge in Decatur, Alabama. They found some of the high-
that grazed on this land.
Wastewater and sludge are major sources of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. Exposure to thesechemicals is linked to a variety of reproductive changes in
The National Committee on Hormonally Active Agents inthe Environment agrees that adverse reproductive, devel-opmental, cognitive and immune system effects have been
Similarly, triclosan, a pesticide used in personal care prod-ucts like toothpaste and hand soap, was detected in 92percent of sludge samples collected for the TNSSS.
Of thechemicals used in personal care products, triclosan was thesecond most common contaminant; triclocarban, anotherantimicrobial, was the most common. A 2009 study con-ducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
persists in the environment at low levels.
Biosolids v. Sludge: Good v. Evil?
Biosolids and sludge are the same thing. The term “biosolids”is the result of a campaign to make land application of sludge more palatable to the public. Unsurprisingly, “sewagesludge” is not appealing to consumers. For this reason, theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the WaterEnvironment Research Foundation held a contest to renamesludge. WERF is the research arm of the sewage industry’slobbying group the Water Environment Federation (WEF).
The term “biosolids” won and has been marketed aggressivelyever since.
EPA’s guidance document,
A Plain English Guideto the EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule
, refers to sewage sludgeas biosolids in order to “emphasize the beneﬁcial nature of this recyclable biological resource.”
The National ResearchCouncil deﬁnes biosolids as “sewage sludge that hasbeen treated to meet the regulatory requirements for landapplication set out in…Title 40 (Part 503).”