Quantitative Non-targeted Screening to Profile Micropollutants in Sewage Sludge Used for Agricultural Field Amendments

Mulatu Y. Nanusha*, Emil Egede Frøkjær, Jens Søndergaard, Martin Mørk Larsen, Casper Schwartz Glottrup, Jakob Bruun Nicolaisen, Martin Hansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


A considerable number of micropollutants from human activities enter the wastewater network for removal. However, at the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), some proportion of these compounds is retained in the sewage sludge (biosolids), and due to its high content of nutrients, sludge is widely applied as an agricultural fertilizer and becomes a means for the micropollutants to be introduced to the environment. Accordingly, a holistic semiquantitative nontarget screening was performed on sewage sludges from five different WWTPs using nanoflow liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution Orbitrap mass spectrometry. Sixty-one inorganic elements were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Across all sludges, the nontarget analysis workflow annotated >21,000 features with chemical structures, and after strict prioritization and filtering, 120 organic micropollutants with diverse chemical structures and applications such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, flame retardants, and industrial and natural compounds were identified. None of the tested sludges were free from organic micropollutants. Pharmaceuticals contributed the largest share followed by pesticides and natural products. The predicted concentration of identified contaminants ranged between 0.2 and 10,881 ng/g dry matter. Through quantitative nontarget analysis, this study comprehensively demonstrated the occurrence of cocktails of micropollutants in sewage sludges.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Pages (from-to)9850-9862
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • contaminants
  • ICP-MS
  • natural compounds
  • pesticides
  • pharmaceuticals
  • sewage sludge
  • wastewater


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