Comparative meta-analysis of organic contaminants in sewage sludge from the United States and China

Joshua C. Steele, Xiang Zhou Meng, Arjun K. Venkatesan, Rolf U. Halden

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Characterizing the occurrence of organic contaminants (OCs) of environmental health concern in municipal sewage sludges is essential for safe handling and disposal of these abundant materials. This meta-analysis aimed to (i) summarize the extent of studies performed on the chemical composition of sewage sludges from China and the U.S., the world's two largest chemical producers, (ii) identify chemical groups of priority concern, (iii) quantitatively compare chemical abundance in sludge between nations, (iv) determine longitudinal contaminant accumulation trends in sludge, and (v) identify data gaps with regard to OC concentrations in sludge. A literature search was conducted on concentrations of OCs in U.S. sludges produced during treatment of domestic and industrial wastewater and compared statistically to contaminant levels in Chinese sludge abstracted from a recently established database. Longitudinal trends of OC occurrence were interpreted in the context of national chemical production, usage statistics, and regulations. A total of 105 studies on OCs in U.S. sewage sludge were found, while a total of 159 had been found in China. Among 1175 OCs monitored for, 23% of all analytes had been monitored in both countries (n = 269), 41% (n = 480) in China only, and the remaining 36% (n = 426) in the U.S. only. On average, concentrations of OCs were 4.0 times higher in U.S. than in Chinese sewage sludge, with the highest detection being observed for alkylphenol ethoxylates. Data from a new binational database on toxic OCs in sewage sludges suggest and reiterates the need for additional chemical monitoring in both countries, risk assessments for emerging OCs contained in sludges destined for application on land, and stronger enforcement of sludge disposal restrictions in China, where as much as 40% of sludge is currently being dumped improperly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number153423
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 15 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Biosolids
  • China
  • Organic contaminants
  • Sewage sludge
  • United States
  • Wastewater treatment


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