Sewage sludge analysis

RPS provides analysis of priority pollutants and emerging substances in wastewater treatment sewage sludge and biosolids applied to land.


RPS has been providing analysis of trace contaminants in these challenging matrices to map the distribution of key pollutants and emerging substances. We've done this for a number of high profile research studies, including the UK Chemicals Investigation Programme and the Environment Agency’s Anti Microbial Resistance (AMR) pilot programme, as well as for a number of water companies.

Analysing sewage sludge and biosolids

Sewage sludges are by their nature, difficult matrices to analyse. With high levels of organic materials present and fibrous composition of the samples, there is a need to recover trace amounts of target analytes without any losses in preparation, extraction and clean-up stages. This requires a high level of expertise, which we have built up over many years of testing these types of samples, from our state-of-the-art laboratories in the UK.

The reuse of sewage sludge and biosolids as soil improvers in agriculture is not a new practice. However, there has been heightened interest in determining the potential impact from the release of emerging contaminants and priority pollutants. This has put them under more scrutiny and it is important that they are analysed to assess the likelihood of these chemicals entering, via this pathway.

sewage treatment plant

Our expertise in sewage sludge and biosolids analysis

RPS can offer a wide variety of analysis in these matrices from routine inorganics and heavy metals all the way though to very complex organics such as:

  • PFAS
  • Antimicrobials and pharmaceuticals
  • Steroids
  • Phthalates
  • PAHs, PCBs, PCNs, PCTs
  • Dechloranes
  • Siloxanes
  • Chlorinated paraffins
  • PBDEs
  • Pesticides
The National CIP 2020-21 Chem 7 Sludge Chemical Analysis

The United Kingdom Water Industry Research Chemical Investigations Programme is intended as a means of gaining a better understanding of the occurrence, behaviour, and management of trace contaminants in the catchment. It is a monitoring programme of unprecedented scale and complexity and has been undertaken as a collaborative programme by water companies in England, Wales and Scotland and the respective national regulators.

An initial phase made it possible to prioritise substances for which regulation had been introduced this was carried out between 2010 and 2013. The second phase (CIP2) carried out between 2015 and 2020 focussed on quantifying compliance risk, at a site-specific level, in order that appropriate and justifiable remedial action could be taken.

One area of interest throughout the CIP has been the mechanisms of removal of substances from the received wastewater and the potential for treatment processes to partition substances into the sludge. 

The Chem 7 Driver was developed to further investigate the presence or absence of substances in the biosolids. Although some previous limited investigation had been performed in CIP2, this new study increased the number of sites and significantly increased the number and types of substances investigated.  200 samples were originally collected over a 12 month period from 10 water companies in England and Wales followed by a further 20 samples from Scotland.  The samples were analysed by RPS for 167 substances derived in collaboration between UKWIR and the Environment Agency generating 36,740 individual data points.  This analysis was selected to compliment the work carried out on the Chem 11 (substance removal by installed technologies) and Chem 12 (mechanisms of removal) programmes in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the fate of chemicals within waste water treatment systems. 

Outputs from this work will be published by UKWIR and available here, when ready 

Anti-microbials in sewage sludge

Following on from the work conducted on the CIP3 Chem 7 programme RPS were commissioned by the UK Environment Agency to carry out analysis of 200 biosolids for the presence of antimicrobials chemicals to broaden the understanding on environmental antimicrobial resistance this has now followed on to monitoring a range of chemicals in UK rivers with ongoing monthly catchment monitoring for a wide list of chemicals examples of which have been included below.

Related: Link to this ongoing research in this area

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Our clients

  • Phenoxymethylpenicillin (penicillin V)    
  • Piperacillin       
  • Amoxicillin
  • Benzylpenicillin (penicillin G)                 
  • Flucloxacillin    
  • (Piv) mecillinam Amorolfine  
  • Tazobactam
  • Trimethoprim
  • Clavulanic acid 
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Streptomycin
  • Meropenem
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Ofloxacin
  • Metronidazole  
  • Azithromycin
  • Erythromycin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Lymecycline
  • Doxycycline
  • Minocycline      
  • Tetracycline     
  • Oxytetracycline
  • Sulfamethoxazole
  • Nystatin
  • Terbinafine      
  • Griseofulvin
  • Climbazole
  • Clotrimazole
  • Ketoconazole
  • Miconazole
  • Myclobutanil                            
  • Triticonazole
  • Fluconazole
  • Tebuconazole
  • Itraconazole                                                     
  • Posaconazole
  • Enilconazole also known as imazalil.     
  • Voriconazole
  • Flucytosine


Broad spectrum anti-bacterial and fungicides
  • Triclosan
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Didecyldimethylammonium chloride (DDAC
  • Benzalkonium chloride, also known as alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride and by the trade name Zephiran
  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Zinc

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