Using sludge on arable land - effect based levels and long-term accumulation for certain organic pollutants
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Using sludge on arable land - effect based levels and long-term accumulation for certain organic pollutants

In the waste water treatment process in sewage treatment plants, sewage sludge is produced as a by-product. The sludge contains nitrogen and phosphorus that originate from the waste water. In addition to these nutrients, sludge also contains micronutrients and organic matter. Many of these substances are required for the production of food and they can be recycled by using sludge as a fertiliser on farm lands. Phosphorus is the nutrient that is of primary interest at present. This is due to the fact that phosphorus is a finite resource that is mined and has various levels of unwanted impurities. In the foreseeable future, there will be a shortage of phosphorus ore with low levels of impurities. Ores with higher levels of impurities may also be used in the production of mineral fertilisers in the future, but it may require that energy demanding cleaning techniques are used. Such a scenario will lead to higher market prices for phosphorus fertilisers, which may have social consequences on a global scale. It is therefore crucial that the available phosphorus is used efficiently, from an economic, environmental and social perspective.

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Author(s):
Nordic Council of Ministers

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Sludge from municipal waste water treatment plants is rich in phosphorus. The use of sludge as a fertilizer on agricultural land may decrease the need for mineral fertilizers and may contribute to more efficient recycling of nutrients. However, sewage sludge also contains numerous organic pollutants. There is a general concern that using sludge on agricultural land contributes to environmental pollution and may cause negative effects on human health and the environment. The major goals of this report was to assess this aspect by 1) reviewing current levels of organic pollutants in sludge form the Nordic countries; 2) assessing whether these levels may change as a consequence of recent chemicals legislation; 3) evaluate the potential for environmental pollution and risks, by suggesting effect based limit values (EBLs) for sludge on agricultural land; 4) discussing the suitability of applying these EBLs as limit values.