Directive on the Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture (1986/278)

Title: EC Directive on the Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture

Category: EU Directive

Date: 1986

Reference: 86/278/EEC [Full text]

General Description:

This directive sets out the allowable uses for certain sorts of sewage sludge in agriculture. For the purposes of this directive there are four types of sludge:

  1. Residual sludge from sewage plants treating domestic or urban waste waters;
  2. Residual sludge from septic tanks and other similar installations for the treatment of sewage;
  3. Residual sludge from sewage plants other than that mentioned above;
  4. Treated sludge is defined as meaning sludge which has undergone biological, chemical or heat treatment, or any other appropriate process so as to significantly reduce its fermentability and any health hazards resulting from its use.

The sludge referred to in (i) may only be used for agricultural purposes in accordance with this directive, that referred to in (ii) may be used as long as any guidelines published with regards to the protection of health and the environment are followed. The sludge referred to in (iii) may only be used in agriculture so long as its use is regulated by the member states.

If the levels of any heavy metals in the soil exceeds the limits set by this directive then no sludge may be applied to the soil. Also the use of sewage sludge should be regulated such that the accumulation of heavy metals within the soils does not exceed the levels as set by this directive; this shall be done by each member state expressing as a maximum the number of tonnes of dry matter which may be applied to soil per unit of area per year.

Sludge may not be applied to any land if the following conditions apply :

  1. Grass land is to be grazed or forage crop is to be harvested before 3 weeks has elapsed;
  2. Fruit or vegetables are grown on the soil, with the exception of fruit trees;
  3. Any fruit or vegetable is grown on the soil that is normally in contact with the ground and can be eaten raw, for a period of ten months before the harvest of the crops or during the harvest itself.

There are also limits set upon the amounts of certain heavy metals that can added to the soil in sewage sludge per hectare per year on average in a ten year cycle. These levels can be seen in the table on sewage sludge limits.

When sewage sludge is applied to soil the following rules should be followed:

  1. Sewage sludge should be used in such way as to take account of the nutrient needs of any plants grown upon the soil.
  2. The quality of the soil and of surface and groundwater should not be impaired in any way.
  3. If the pH of the soil is below 6 then the increased mobility of heavy metals in the soil and the increased uptake by plants should be taken into account (if necessary the limits on certain heavy metals should be reduced accordingly).

Pertinence to Agriculture: Soil, Agricultural Pollution, Waste

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