Brominated flame retardants in U.S. biosolids from the EPA national sewage sludge survey and chemical persistence in outdoor soil mesocosms

Arjun K. Venkatesan, Rolf Halden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


We determined national baseline levels and release inventories of 77 traditional and novel brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in biosolids composites (prepared from 110 samples) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2001 national sewage sludge survey (NSSS). Additionally, analyses were performed on archived samples from a 3-year outdoor mesocosm study to determine the environmental persistence of BFRs in biosolids-amended soil. The total polybrominated diphenylether (PBDE) concentration detected in biosolids composites was 9400±960μg/kg dry weight, of which deca-BDE constituted 57% followed by nona- and penta-BDE at 18 and 13%, respectively. The annual mean loading rate estimated from the detected concentrations and approximate annual biosolids production and disposal numbers in the U.S., of the sum of PBDEs and non-BDE BFRs was calculated to be 47,900-60,100 and 12,900-16,200kg/year, of which 24,000-36,000 and 6400-9700kg/year are applied on land, respectively. Mean concentration of PBDEs were higher in the 2001 samples compared to levels reported in EPA's 2006/7 Targeted NSSS, reflecting on-going efforts in phasing-out PBDEs in the U.S. In outdoor soil mesocosms, >99% of the initial BFRs mass in the biosolids/soil mixtures (1:2) persisted over the monitoring duration of three years. Estimates of environmental releases may be refined in the future by analyzing individual rather than composited samples, and by integrating currently unavailable data on disposal of biosolids on a plant-specific basis. This study informs the risk assessment of BFRs by furnishing national inventories of BFR occurrence and environmental release via biosolids application on land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - May 15 2014


  • Biosolids
  • Brominated flame retardants
  • Emerging contaminants
  • Environmental persistence
  • Land application
  • Polybrominated diphenylether

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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