SYNTHETIC FIBERS AS INDICATORS OF MUNICIPAL SEWAGE SLUDGE, SLUDGE PRODUCTS, AND SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT EFFLUENTS*

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Abstract

Because of concerns regarding health, safety, and aesthetics, a test that identifies the presence of sewage sludge or its products (biosolids) in commercial materials such as soil conditioners and composts would be useful. This test could also trace the effluent plume from a sewage treatment plant. We have discovered that synthetic fibers serve as such an indicator. Synthetic fibers are abundant in sludge, sludge products, and sewage treatment plant effluents. The fibers evidently are introduced from clothes-washing machines and survive the sewage treatment process. Synthetic fibers were identified using polarized light microscopy, which provided a simple, rapid method for determining the presence or absence of municipal sewage sludge or its products. False positives or false negatives have not occurred with any of the materials examined so far. We also monitored synthetic fibers in surface sediments of Huntington Harbor, Long Island, NY, a harbor receiving the effluent from a trickling filter sewage treatment plant. Fibers generally decrease in size and abundance with distance from the source. In Oyster Bay Harbor, Long Island, an advanced sewage treatment plant is operated with a final microfiltration step. Synthetic fibers are less abundant in the sediments of this harbor.

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