Black water sludge reuse in agriculture: Are heavy metals a problem?

T.H. Tervahauta, S. Rani, L.H. Leal, C.J.N. Buisman, G. Zeeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Heavy metal content of sewage sludge is currently the most significant factor limiting its reuse in agriculture within the European Union. In the Netherlands most of the produced sewage sludge is incinerated, mineralizing the organic carbon into the atmosphere rather than returning it back to the soil. Source-separation of black water (toilet water) excludes external heavy metal inputs, such as industrial effluents and surface run-offs, producing sludge with reduced heavy metal content that is a more favorable source for resource recovery. The results presented in this paper show that feces is the main contributor to the heavy metal loading of vacuum collected black water (52-84%), while in sewage the contribution of feces is less than 10%. To distinguish black water from sewage in the sludge reuse regulation, a control parameter should be implemented, such as the Hg and Pb content that is significantly higher in sewage sludge compared to black water sludge (from 50- to 200-fold). The heavy metals in feces and urine are primarily from dietary sources, and promotion of the soil application of black water sludge over livestock manure and artificial fertilizers could further reduce the heavy metal content in the soil/food cycle. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-236
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • soil carbon sequestration
  • mitigate climate-change
  • urban waste-water
  • uk total diet
  • sewage-sludge
  • trace-elements
  • lactovegetarian diet
  • european countries
  • human physiology
  • human exposure


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