Biotests for environmental quality assessment of composted sewage sludge

Anu Kapanen, Minna Vikman (Corresponding Author), Johanna Rajasärkkä, Marko Virta, Merja Itävaara

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    69 Citations (Scopus)


    The quality of sewage sludge-based products, such as composts and growth media, is affected by the contamination of sewage sludge with, potentially, hundreds of different substances. Therefore, it is difficult to achieve the reliable environmental quality assessment of sewage sludge-based products solely based on chemical analysis. In the present work, we demonstrate the use of the kinetic luminescent bacteria test (ISO 21338) to evaluate acute toxicity and the Vitotox™ test to monitor genotoxicity of sewage sludge and composted sewages sludge. In addition, endocrine-disrupting and dioxin-like activity was studied using yeast-cell-based assays. The relative contribution of industrial waste water treated at the Waste Water Treatment Plants led to elevated concentrations of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and -furans (PCDD/F) in sewage sludge. The effect of elevated amounts of organic contaminants could also be identified with biotests able to demonstrate higher acute toxicity, genotoxicity, and potential for endocrine-disruptive properties. Additional extraction steps in kinetic luminescent bacteria test with DMSO and hexane increased the level of toxicity detected. Composting in a pilot-scale efficiently reduced the amounts of linear alkylbenzensulphonates (LASs), nonylphenols and nonylphenolethoxylates (NPE/NPs) and PAH with relative removal efficiencies of 84%, 61% and 56%. In addition, decrease in acute toxicity, genotoxicity and endocrorine-disrupting and dioxin-like activity during composting could be detected. However, the biotests did have limitations in accessing the ecotoxicity of test media rich with organic matter, such as sewage sludge and compost, and effects of sample characteristics on biotest organisms must be acknowledged. The compost matrix itself, however, which contained a high amount of nutrients, bark, and peat, reduced the sensitivity of the genotoxicity tests and yeast bioreporter assays.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1451-1460
    JournalWaste Management
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • biodegradation
    • bioreporter
    • compost
    • ecotoxicity
    • organic contaminant
    • sewage sludge


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