Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 6256–6265 | Cite as

Partitioning of nutrients and micropollutants along the sludge treatment line: a case study

  • A. Gianico
  • C. M. BragugliaEmail author
  • G. Mascolo
  • G. Mininni
Research Article


A 2-year sampling campaign was conducted in three wastewater treatment plants of various sizes in the Rome area to assess the occurrence of nutrients and micropollutants among primary, secondary and digested sludge. The primary purpose was to evaluate the quality of different sludge types and their suitability for agricultural use. Primary sludge was consistently more polluted than secondary in terms of organic micropollutants, whereas heavy metals partitioned equally among the sludge types. In digested sludge, the heavy metal concentrations were always below limit values proposed for agricultural utilisation. In contrast, organic micropollutants concentrated during anaerobic digestion and affected the quality of the digested sludge. Secondary sludge resulted less polluted and richer in nitrogen and phosphorus (up to three times) than primary sludge and is hence more suitable for agricultural use. Separate processing of primary and secondary sludge might therefore be an innovative option for sludge management that could maximise the possibilities of agricultural use of secondary sludge and limit disposal problems only to primary sludge. In fact, primary sludge could be easily treated and disposed of by conventional processes including thickening, anaerobic digestion, centrifugation and incineration, whereas the difficult digestibility of secondary sludge could be improved by disintegration pre-treatment before stabilisation.


Sewage sludge Nutrients Agriculture Heavy metals Organic micropollutants Sludge separation 



This research activity was funded by the European FP6 project Neptune ( “New Sustainable Concepts and Processes for Optimisation and Upgrading Municipal Wastewater and Sludge Treatment.”

The monitoring campaign of the Italian WWTPs was conducted with the kind assistance and cooperation of ACEA s.p.a., the Municipal Agency for Electricity and the Environment.

The micropollutant analyses were performed in kind cooperation with Domenico Mastroianni, Giuseppe Bagnuolo and Ruggero Ciannarella at IRSA-CNR of Rome and Bari, respectively.


  1. Alonso Alvarez E, Callejon Mochòn M, Jiménez Sànchez JC, Ternero Rodriguéz M (2002) Heavy metal extractable forms in sludge from wastewater treatment plants. Chemosphere 47:765–775CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aparicio I, Santos JL, Alonso E (2009) Limitation of the concentration of organic pollutants in sewage sludge for agricultural purposes: a case study in South Spain. Waste Manage 29:1747–1753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. APHA, AWWA, WEF (1998) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 20th edn. American Public Health Association and American Water Works Association and Water Environment Federation, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  4. Barret M, Cea Barcia G, Guillon A, Carrère H, Patureau D (2010) Influence of feed characteristics on the removal of micropollutants during the anaerobic digestion of contaminated sludge. J Hazard Mater 181:241–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braguglia CM, Gianico A, Mininni G (2011) Laboratory-scale ultrasound pre-treated digestion of sludge: heat and energy balance. Bioresour Technol 102(16):7567–7573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell HW (2000) Sludge management—future issues and trends. Water Sci Technol 41(8):1–8Google Scholar
  7. Carballa M, Omil F, Ternes T, Lema JM (2007) Fate of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) during anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge. Water Res 41(10):2139–2150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chang GR, Liu JC, Lee DJ (2001) Co-conditioning and dewatering of chemical sludge and waste activated sludge. Water Res 35(3):786–794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chipasa KB (2003) Accumulation and fate of selected heavy metals in a biological wastewater treatment system. Waste Manage 23:135–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Comber SDW, Gunn AM (1996) Heavy metals entering sewage-treatment works from domestic sources. Water Environ J 10(2):137–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Di Corcia A, Samperi R, Bellioni A, Marcomini A, Zanette M, Lemr K, Cavalli L (1994) LAS pilot study at the Roma-Nord sewage treatment plant and in the Tiber river. Riv Ital Sostanze Grasse 71(9):467–475Google Scholar
  12. European Commission (2000) Working document on sludge. 3rd draft. ENV.E.3/LMGoogle Scholar
  13. Garcìa-Gil JC, Plaza C, Senesi N, Brunetti G (2004) Effects of sewage sludge amendment on humic acids and microbiological properties of a semiarid Mediterranean soil. Biol Fertil Soils 39:320–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goi D, Tubaro F, Dolcetti G (2006) Analysis of metals and EOX in sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants: a case study. Waste Manage 26:167–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gomez Rico MF, Font R, Aracil I, Fullana A (2007) Analysis of organic pollutants in sewage sludge from the Valencian Community (Spain). Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 52:306–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gómez-Canela C, Barth JAC, Lacorte S (2012) Occurrence and fate of perfluorinated compounds in sewage sludge from Spain and Germany. Environ Sci Pollut Res 19:4109–4119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. González MM, Martín J, Camacho-Muñoz D, Santos JL, Aparicio I, Alonso E (2012) Degradation and environmental risk of surfactants after the application of compost sludge to the soil. Waste Manage 32:1324–1331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Guillemet TA, Maesen P, Delcarte E, Lognay GC, Gillet A, Claustriaux JJ, Culot M (2009) Factors influencing microbiological and chemical composition of South-Belgian raw sludge. Biotechnol Agron Soc Environ 13(2):249–255Google Scholar
  19. Harrison EZ, Oakes SR, Hysell M, Hay A (2006) Organic chemicals in sewage sludges. Sci Total Environ 367:481–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Heidler J, Sapkota A, Halden RU (2006) Partitioning, persistence, and accumulation in digested sludge of the topical antiseptic Triclocarban during wastewater treatment. Environ Sci Technol 40:3634–3639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Henning BJ, Snyman HG, Aveling TAS (2001) Plant–soil interactions of sludge-borne heavy metals and the effect on maize (Zea mays L.) seedling growth. Water S Afr 27(1):71–78Google Scholar
  22. ICON (2001) Pollutants in urban waste water and sewage sludge. Final Report. IC Consultants Ltd, London UK
  23. Ifelebuegu AO (2011) The fate and behavior of selected endocrine disrupting chemicals in full scale wastewater and sludge treatment unit processes. Int J Environ Sci Tech 8(2):245–254Google Scholar
  24. Karvelas M, Katsoyiannis A, Samara C (2003) Occurrence and fate of heavy metals in the wastewater treatment process. Chemosphere 53:1201–1210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Katsoyiannis A, Samara C (2005) Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the conventional activated sludge treatment process: fate and mass balance. Environ Res 97:245–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Khan SJ, Ongerth JE (2002) Estimation of pharmaceutical residues in primary and secondary sewage sludge based on quantities of use and fugacity modelling. Water Sci Technol 46(3):105–113Google Scholar
  27. Korentejar L (1991) A review of the agricultural use of sewage sludge: benefits and potential hazards. Water S Afr 17(3):189–196Google Scholar
  28. Körner W, Bolz U, Sübmuth W, Hiller G, Schuller W, Hanf V (2000) Input/output balance of estrogenic active compounds in a major municipal sewage plant in Germany. Chemosphere 40:1131–1142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McGowin AE, Adom KK, Obubuafo AK (2001) Screening of compost for PAHs and pesticides using static subcritical water extraction. Chemosphere 45:857–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Metcalf, Eddy (2003) Wastewater engineering: treatment and reuse, 4th edn. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Mininni G, Braguglia CM, Ramadori R, Tomei MC (2004) An innovative sludge management system based on separation of primary and secondary sludge treatment. Water Sci Technol 50(9):145–153Google Scholar
  32. Passuello A, Mari M, Nadal M, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL (2010) POP accumulation in the food chain: integrated risk model for sewage sludge application in agricultural soils. Environ Int 36(6):577–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Prats D, Ruiz F, Vazquez B, Rodriguez-Pastor M (1997) Removal of anionic and non-ionic surfactants in a wastewater treatment plant with anaerobic digestion. A comparative study. Water Res 31(8):1925–1930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Radjenovic J, Jelic A, Petrovic M, Barcelo D (2009) Determination of pharmaceuticals in sewage sludge by pressurized liquid extraction (PLE) coupled to liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Anal Bioanal Chem 393:1685–1695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roig N, Sierra J, Nadal M, Martí E, Navalón-Madrigal P, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL (2012) Relationship between pollutant content and ecotoxicity of sewage sludges from Spanish wastewater treatment plants. Sci Total Environ 425:99–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Roy M, Couillard D (1998) Metal leaching following sludge application to a deciduous forest soil. Water Res 32:1642–1652CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Salsabil MR, Laurent J, Casellas M, Dagot C (2010) Techno-economic evaluation of thermal treatment, ozonation and sonication for the reduction of wastewater biomass volume before aerobic or anaerobic digestion. J Hazard Mater 174:323–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ternes TA, Joss A, Siegrist H (2004) Scrutinizing pharmaceuticals and personal care products in wastewater treatment. The complexity of these hazards should not be underestimated. Environ Sci Technol 38(20):392–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. US EPA (1979) Process design manual for sludge treatment and disposal. US EPA, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  40. Villar P, Callejón M, Alonso E, Jimenez JC, Guiraúm A (2006) Temporal evolution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sludge from wastewater treatment plants: comparison between PAHs and heavy metals. Chemosphere 64(4):535–541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Villar M, Callejón M, Villar P, Fernández-Torres R, Bello MA, Guiraúm A (2011) Temporal evolution of linear alkylbenzene sulfonates and heavy metals in sludge from wastewater treatment plant. Water Environ Res 83(5):411–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang C, Li X-C, Ma H-T, Qian J, Zhai J-B (2006) Distribution of extractable fractions of heavy metals in sludge during the wastewater treatment process. J Hazard Mater 137:1277–1283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Winter P, Pearce P (2010) Parallel digestion of secondary and primary sludge. In Proceedings of the 15th European biosolids and organic resources conference, November 2010 NJ Horan ed, Aqua Enviro, LeedsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Gianico
    • 1
  • C. M. Braguglia
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. Mascolo
    • 2
  • G. Mininni
    • 1
  1. 1.Water Research InstituteCNRMonterotondo (Roma)Italy
  2. 2.Water Research InstituteCNRBariItaly

Personalised recommendations