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Land application of biosolids and biosolid products has raised certain public health and worker health issues. The principal public health concerns are:

Heavy metal uptake by crops and contamination of the food chain.


Bioaerosols dispersed during land application

Organic compounds


The major worker health concerns are:

• Pathogens

• Bioaerosols

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

The heavy metal issue has been extensively researched. During the past 30 years, the chemical characteristics of biosolids have improved considerably due to improved treatment and reduction from industrial inputs. Two major issues are raised: (1) Why are the European and Canadian regulations or standards different from the USEPA regulations, and (2) Are toxic metals applied from biosolids follow the “time bomb” hypothesis or the “plateau” effect.

The primary concern with land application of biosolids especially Class B is with regard to pathogens. Class B can contain pathogens that could survive in soils for long periods. Emerging infectious disease agents are of concern since there is little data on their presence in biosolids and survival in soils. Several of these organisms have resulted in food and water contamination and illnesses. A report by NIOSH indicated potential exposure to pathogens by workers engaged in land application.

A series of papers from the University of Arizona suggested that land application of biosolids could aerosolize pathogens that could be transported large distances and affect public health.

USEPA proposed a dioxin standard of 300 ppt TEQ for all biosolids. In addition to dioxin, issues have been raised regarding other organic compounds in biosolids. These include polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAs), phthalate acid esters, linear alkylbenzene sulfonates, alkylphenols, PCBs pesticides, chlorobenzene and other compounds. Land application of biosolids can produce odors. Infrequent odors are considered a nuisance, whereas persistent odors often suggest to the public potential health impacts resulting from the emissions of volatile organic compounds and other compounds.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864703784292638

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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