United States National Sewage Sludge Repository at Arizona State University—a new resource and research tool for environmental scientists, engineers, and epidemiologists

Arjun K. Venkatesan, Hansa Y. Done, Rolf U. Halden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Processed municipal sewage sludges (MSS) are an abundant, unwanted by-product of wastewater treatment, increasingly applied to agriculture and forestry for inexpensive disposal and soil conditioning. Due to their high organic carbon and lipid contents, MSS not only is rich in carbon and nutrients but also represents a “sink” for recalcitrant, hydrophobic, and potentially bioaccumulative compounds. Indeed, many organics sequestered and concentrated in MSS meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of being persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT). In a strategic effort, our research team at the Biodesign Institute has created the National Sewage Sludge Repository (NSSR), a large repository of digested MSSs from 164 wastewater treatment plants from across the USA, as part of the Human Health Observatory (H2O) at Arizona State University (ASU). The NSSR likely represents the largest archive of digested MSS specimens in the USA. The present study summarizes key findings gleaned thus far from analysis of NSSR samples. For example, we evaluated the content of toxicants in MSS and computed estimates of nationwide inventories of mass produced chemicals that become sequestrated in sludge and later are released into the environment during sludge disposal on land. Ongoing efforts document co-occurrence of a variety of PBT compounds in both MSS and human samples, while also identifying a large number of potentially harmful MSS constituents for which human exposure data are still lacking. Finally, we summarize future opportunities and invite collaborative use of the NSSR by the research community. The H2O at ASU represents a new resource and research tool for environmental scientists and the larger research community. As illustrated in this work, this repository can serve to (i) identify and prioritize emerging contaminants, (ii) provide spatial and temporal trends of contaminants, (iii) inform and evaluate the effectiveness of environmental policy-making and regulations, and (iv) approximate, ongoing exposures and body burdens of mass-produced chemicals in human society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1577-1586
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Biosolids
  • Contaminants of emerging concern
  • Environmental specimen banks
  • Human Health Observatory
  • National repository
  • Sewage sludge


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