EPA: Sewage sludge standards help protect protect health and the environment

Spread the love

These biosolids undergo undergo treatment to make them safe for land application


Basic Information about Biosolids

  • The term sewage sludge is used in EPA regulations that establish a protective regulatory framework to manage the use and disposal of sewage sludge.
  • The terms biosolids and sewage sludge are often used interchangeably.
  • When properly treated and processed, sewage sludge becomes biosolids which are nutrient-rich organic materials produced from wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Biosolids can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.
  • Effective sewage sludge and biosolids management options help ensure that useful materials are recycled on land and harmful materials are not released to water bodies.


Created by the EPA in 1985, the Pathogen Equivalency Committee (PEC) is a federally sponsored technical group that provides technical assistance and recommendations on process equivalencies for pathogen reduction in sewage sludge to government and industry. This website provides guidance from the PEC for demonstrating the effectiveness of innovative and/or alternative sewage sludge disinfection processes for the purposes of receiving a recommendation of equivalency to a process that significantly or further reduces pathogens.

Information for potential PEC applicants: Before applying to the PEC for equivalency, please read the information below and get acquainted with the process.

In reviewing equivalency applications, the PEC ensure that new processes employed for sewage sludge treatment are robust and effective in pathogen reduction. The PEC reviews and makes recommendations to relevant federal and/or state permitting authorities on the merits of applications proposing new innovative or alternative sewage sludge pathogen reduction processes are equivalent to the processes currently listed in the 40 CFR Part 503, Subpart D, regulation.

A quality assurance project plan (QAPP) should be developed before beginning testing so that the desired quality in sample collection, laboratory analysis, data validation and reporting, as well as documentation and record keeping is achieved and maintained.

You may read about examples of companies and products that have received equivalency related to processes to significantly reduce pathogens and processes to further reduce pathogens.

Sewage Sludge Surveys

Surveys of Pollutants in Sewage Sludge / Biosolids

It is important to characterize and understand what chemicals may be present in sewage sludge and biosolids that are generated by the nation’s publicly owned treatment works. EPA has conducted three national sewage sludge surveys since 1988 to obtain unbiased national estimates of the concentrations of more than 500 pollutants in sewage sludge, including metals; dioxins and dioxin-like compounds; inorganic ions; certain organics (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, semivolatiles); polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants); and pharmaceuticals, steroids and hormones in sewage sludge managed by land application.The most recent survey, the Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, is a valuable step in advancing the understanding of what is present in treated sewage sludge and in evaluating what potential harm those pollutants may pose to human health and the environment. It also fulfills an important commitment under the agency’s priority focus areas for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) by providing the first national estimates of which compounds may be present in sewage sludge and at what concentrations.Separate from EPA, in October 2000 the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA), now known as the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), also conducted a voluntary survey (AMSA Dioxins Sewage Sludge Survey, see report below) to determine current levels of dioxin-like compounds (i.e., polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans and dioxin-like coplanar PCBs) in biosolids (sewage sludge). These data were collected to assist U.S. EPA in developing an environmentally sound and technically correct dioxin decision for land-applied biosolids.Survey documents are provided. If you have trouble accessing any content in the following documents, please contact Rick Stevens by phone (202-566-1135) or email (stevens.rick@epa.gov).

You may need Adobe Reader to view files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.