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Microplastics removal from a primary settler tank in a wastewater treatment plant and estimations of contamination onto European agricultural land via sewage sludge recycling

Lofty, J., Muhawenimana, V., Wilson, C. A. M. E. and Ouro, P. 2022. Microplastics removal from a primary settler tank in a wastewater treatment plant and estimations of contamination onto European agricultural land via sewage sludge recycling. Environmental Pollution 304 , 119198. 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119198

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Abstract

Wastewater treatment plants (WwTPs) remove microplastics (MPs) from municipal sewage flow, with the resulting bulk of MPs being concentrated within generated sewage sludge which is frequently recycled back onto agricultural land as accepted practice in many European countries as a sustainable fertiliser resource. This circular process means that MPs successfully removed from WwTPs are deposited into the soil and able to return into the natural watercourse by means of run-off or infiltration to groundwater. This study quantifies the removal efficiency of MPs with size ranging between 1000 and 5000 μm in a primary settlement tank (PST) at a WwTP serving a population equivalent of 300,000 and provides MP concentrations in the generated sewage sludge. Our study revealed that the proportion of MPs partitioning in a PST to settled sludge, floating scum and effluent was 96%, 4% and 0% respectively, implying 100% removal of MPs of 1000–5000 μm in size. The generated sewage sludge was estimated to contain concentrations of approximately 0.01 g of MPs or 24.7 MP particles per g of dry sewage sludge solid, equivalent to ∼1% of the sewage sludge weight. Using these figures and data from the European Commission and Eurostat, the potential yearly MP contamination onto soils throughout European nations is estimated to be equivalent to a mass of MPs ranging between 31,000 and 42,000 tonnes (considering MPs 1000–5000 μm in size) or 8.6×1013–7.1×1014 MP particles (considering MPs 25–5000 μm in size). An estimated maximum application rate of 4.8 g of MP/m2/yr or 11,489 MP particles/m2/yr, suggests that the practice of spreading sludge on agricultural land could potentially make them one of the largest global reservoirs of MP pollution. Hence, recycling raw sewage sludge onto agricultural soils should be reviewed to avoid introducing extreme MP pollution into the environment.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Engineering
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0269-7491
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 April 2022
Date of Acceptance: 21 March 2022
Last Modified: 31 May 2022 07:25
URI: https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/148960

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