Health Considerations

Concerning the possible health effects associated with these methods of sludge disposal, the information to date indicates that the potential hazard of disease transmission by pathogenic organisms originating from sludge disposal on land is not significant. Bacteria normally do not travel distances greater than 100 ft through granular soils, and viruses do not pass through 2 ft of clean sand at moderate liquid application rates during 7 months.

The fate of heavy metal pollutants (such as iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, and zinc) in soils is not known, but their chemistry indicates that they generally form insoluble precipitates. The major mechanism for the retention of heavy metals in soil may be sorption on hydrous oxides of iron and manganese, thus significantly retarding the migration of these pollutants in the soil. As the capacity of soil to retain heavy metal elements is exceeded, a breakthrough to the groundwater occurs, and environmental engineers must consider this possibility when planning a permanent lagoon or landfill disposal facility.

The possibility of fertilizer nutrient buildup in ground-water and surface water from sludge lagoon and landfill leachates does exist. Therefore, environmental engineers should be concerned with this possibility because high concentrations of nitrates in drinking water can have toxic effects on humans and nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to eutrophication in surface water.

The nitrogen loss to leachate can be as high as 60 mg/l as N for 1 in of wet sludge applied to land per year and can increase to 620 and 1070 mg/l for 6- and 12-in application rates, respectively. Because sludge lagoons are ordinarily flooded, biological denitrification processes may have a minimizing effect on the nitrogen loss to lagoon leachate.

The potential phosphorus pollution of ground and surface water by leachate is not too serious since soils normally have a high capacity to retain phosphates. Only when the phosphate retention capacity of the soil is exceeded can this type of pollution create a problem; this capacity can eventually be exceeded in conjunction with permanent sludge lagooning operations. Soil erosion in lagoon and landfill areas can also be a source of nutrient pollution by supplying soil-adsorbed phosphorus to surface water.

Odors and troublesome insects are common complaints of the general public concerning the location and operation of sludge lagoons and landfills. Proper operation and maintenance of the disposal sites through restricted access, weed control, and effective landfill covering minimizing these adverse concerns.

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