Ecotoxicological evaluation of treated wastewater and sewage sludge for sustainable use in land management

  • Municipal wastewater contains nutrients valuable for a reuse in agriculture and can be the source of a multitude of chemicals used in private households and industry, too. As many of these chemicals are incompletely degraded during wastewater treatment, their residues remain partly in sewage sludge and partly in treated wastewater. Concerns are linked particularly to the so called micropollutants, i.e. anthropogenic organic substances such as personal care products, pharmaceuticals and biocides, for which scarce data on their degradability and environmental fate and particularly on their ecotoxicity are available. Thus, when reusing treated wastewater and sewage sludge for irrigation or as soil amendment for a sustainable land and water management, these wastewater-borne pollutants may enter soil, groundwater and surface water. The present work therefore aimed at assessing potential ecotoxic effects on aquatic and terrestrial organisms of reusing treated wastewater and sewage sludge. To this end, established as well as newly developed experimental approaches were used to investigate the problem on several levels. Individual wastewater-borne substances, samples from field study sites and samples from a soil column experiment simulating prolonged wastewater irrigation were examined. At the start of the experimental work, the ecotoxicity of climbazole was characterised towards five aquatic and five terrestrial test organisms. Climbazole is an azole antimycotic agent applied in cosmetics and anti-dandruff shampoos and was recently detected in relatively high concentrations in treated wastewater and sewage sludge. In the present work climbazole was found to be particularly toxic towards plants such as water lentils with effective concentrations comparable to those of agricultural azole fungicides. Dwarfism, that is reduced shoot elongation observed in plants, pointed at a specific, phytohormone inhibiting mode of action of climbazole. Furthermore, the expected influence of the soil pH on the phytotoxicity of climbazole was experimentally confirmed. Based on the findings for climbazole, two additional azole antimycotics, ketoconazole and fluconazole, and the regularly in sewage sludge detected biocide benzyldimethyldodecyl-ammonium chloride (BDDA) were investigated for their toxicity towards plants. In aqueous medium, an increasing phytotoxicity from fluconazole to BDDA, ketoconazole and climbazole was observed, while in soil, phytotoxicity increased from BDDA to ketoconazole, climbazole and fluconazole. The relatively low terrestrial toxicity of BDDA and ketoconazole probably resulted from their strong binding to soil as well as their good biodegradability. To render the exposure scenario more realistic, sewage sludge was co-applied with the four test substances in a parallel test run. However, as no detectable influence on their effective concentrations was found, it can be assumed that the current practice of assessing sewage sludge borne substances with biotests in standard soil is sufficiently realistic. In a further study, different advanced sludge-treatment technologies were assessed for their efficacy in reducing pollutants. Results from the present work indicated that effects assessed in terrestrial short term biotests only seldom correlated with the concentrations of certain pollutants. Rather, a negative correlation of the stability of the sludges, determined by the ratio of volatile to total solids, to their ecotoxicity was seen. Another aspect of the present work was the design and performance of an experimental approach to assess the environmental risk of a long-term irrigation with treated wastewater concerning the quality of soil and water in a prospective way, i.e. before the installation at field scale. For the simulation of a continuous irrigation corresponding to approximately 30 years, a percolation apparatus was developed and four different soils were percolated with treated wastewater for three months. Acute and chronic biotests with nine test organisms from different trophic levels (green algae, water lentils and water fleas as well as oilseed rape, oats, bacteria, spring tails, enchytraeids and earthworms) were used to assess the soil percolates as well as the soils with and without percolation. These investigations were accompanied by a comprehensive chemical monitoring conducted by project partners. Results indicated that the soil passage, that is the percolation through the soil, generally improved the quality of the treated wastewater as habitat for aquatic organisms which was visible by a reduction of its phytotoxicity. However, in some cases it deteriorated the water quality, probably resulting from the leaching of metals from pre-contaminated soil. A deteriorated habitat quality of the soil after the percolation with treated wastewater was observed for several test organisms and soils. In the same, mainly peaty soils, the highest accumulation of wastewater-borne micropollutants and of zinc was measured. Yet, their concentrations did not correlate to the observed biological effects. Moreover, data on ecotoxicity were only available for a small fraction of the detected substances so that their concentrations could not successfully be used to predict expected biological effects. The experimental approach used in the present work demonstrated to be an adequate tool to support the prospective evaluation of environmental risks of treated wastewater irrigation. Overall, it can be concluded that the reuse of treated wastewater on soil can improve the quality of treated wastewater but that this can come at the cost of deteriorating the quality of the soil. As these risks cannot be generalised, a comprehensive biotest battery as well as chemical analysis should be used to assess them on a case-specific basis for each respective wastewater and the respective soil.

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Author:Elisabeth Richter
Referee:Jörg OehlmannORCiDGND, Thomas A. TernesGND
Advisor:Jörg Oehlmann
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2016/04/05
Year of first Publication:2015
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2016/02/24
Release Date:2016/04/05
Page Number:235
Institutes:Biowissenschaften / Institut für Ökologie, Evolution und Diversität
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
Sammlung Biologie / Biologische Hochschulschriften (Goethe-Universität)
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht