Environmental science & technology

Characterization, Recovery Opportunities, and Valuation of Metals in Municipal Sludges from U.S. Wastewater Treatment Plants Nationwide.

PMID 25581264


U.S. sewage sludges were analyzed for 58 regulated and nonregulated elements by ICP-MS and electron microscopy to explore opportunities for removal and recovery. Sludge/water distribution coefficients (KD, L/kg dry weight) spanned 5 orders of magnitude, indicating significant metal accumulation in biosolids. Rare-earth elements and minor metals (Y, La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Sm, Eu, Gd, Tb, Dy, Ho, Er, Tm, Yb, Lu) detected in sludges showed enrichment factors (EFs) near unity, suggesting dust or soils as likely dominant sources. In contrast, most platinum group elements (i.e., Ru, Rh, Pd, Pt) showed high EF and KD values, indicating anthropogenic sources. Numerous metallic and metal oxide colloids (<100-500 nm diameter) were detected; the morphology of abundant aggregates of primary particles measuring <100 nm provided clues to their origin. For a community of 1 million people, metals in biosolids were valued at up to US$13 million annually. A model incorporating a parameter (KD × EF × $Value) to capture the relative potential for economic value from biosolids revealed the identity of the 13 most lucrative elements (Ag, Cu, Au, P, Fe, Pd, Mn, Zn, Ir, Al, Cd, Ti, Ga, and Cr) with a combined value of US $280/ton of sludge.