Assessment of anaerobic sewage sludge quality for agricultural application after metal bioleaching
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The effects of metal bioleaching on nutrient solubilization, especially nitrogen and phosphorous, from anaerobically-digested sewage sludge were investigated in this work. The assessment of the sanitary quality of the anaerobic sludge after bioleaching was also carried out by enumerating indicator (total coliforms, fecal coliforms, and fecal streptococci) and total heterotrophic bacteria. The experiments of bioleaching were performed using indigenous sulphur-oxidizing bacteria (Thiobacillus spp.) as inoculum and samples of anaerobically-digested sludge. Nitrogen and phosphorous solubilization from sewage sludge was assessed by measuring, respectively, the concentration of Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, ammonia, nitrate/nitrite, and soluble and total phosphorous before and after the bioleaching assays. At the end of the experiment, after 4 days of incubation (final pH of 1.4), the following metal solubilization yields were obtained: zinc, 91%; nickel, 87%; copper, 79%; lead, 52%; and chromium, 42%. As a result of sludge acidification, the viable counts of selected indicator bacteria were decreased to below the detection limit (4 × 103 cfu 100 ml-1), followed by an increase in the mineral fraction of nitrogen (from 6 to 10%) and in the soluble fraction of phosphorous (from 15 to 30%). Although some loss of sludge nutrients can occur during solid-liquid separation following bioleaching, its beneficial effects as metal removal and reduction of pathogenic bacteria are sufficient to consider the potential of this treatment before sludge disposal onto agricultural fields.