Toward a Consensus View on the Infectious Risks Associated with Land Application of Sewage Sludge

The science linking processed sewage sludge (biosolids) land application with human health has improved in the last ten years. The goal of this review is to develop a consensus view on the human health impacts associated with land-applying biosolids. Pre-existing risk studies are integrated with recent advances in biosolids pathogen exposure science and risk analysis. Other than accidental direct ingestion, the highest public risks of infection from land application are associated with airborne exposure. Multiple, independent risk assessments for enteroviruses similarly estimate the yearly probabilities of infection near 10–4. However, the inclusion of other emerging pathogens, specifically norovirus, increases this yearly infectious risk by over 2 orders of magnitude. Quantitative microbial risk assessment for biosolids exposure more effectively operates as a tool for analyzing how exposure can be reduced rather than being used to assess “safety”. Such analysis demonstrates that the tradition of monitoring pathogen quality by Salmonella spp. and enterovirus content underestimates the infectious risk to the public, and that a rigorous biosolids pathogen treatment process, rather than extending community separation distances, is the most efficient method for reducing pathogen exposure and infectious risk.