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Use of sewage sludge in agriculture

The European Union regulates use of sewage sludge in agriculture to prevent harmful effects on soil, vegetation, animals and humans. In particular it sets maximum values of concentrations of heavy metals and bans the spreading of sewage sludge when the concentration of certain substances in the soil exceeds these values.

ACT

Council Directive 86/278/EEC of 12 June 1986 on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

Sewage sludge has valuable agronomic properties in agriculture. In using sewage sludge account must be taken of the nutrient needs of the plants without, however, impairing neither the quality of the soil nor that of surface and ground water. Some heavy metals present in sewage sludge may be toxic to plants and humans.

Sewage sludge may be used in agriculture provided that the Member State concerned regulates its use.

The Directive lays down limit values for concentrations of heavy metals in the soil (Annex IA), in sludge (Annex IB) and for the maximum annual quantities of heavy metals which may be introduced into the soil (Annex IC).

The use of sewage sludge is prohibited if the concentration of one or more heavy metals in the soil exceeds the limit values laid down in accordance with Annex IA. The Member States must therefore take the necessary steps to ensure that those limit values are not exceeded as a result of using sludge.

Sludge must be treated before being used in agriculture but the Member States may authorise the use of untreated sludge if it is injected or worked into the soil.

The use of sludge is prohibited:

  • on grassland or forage crops if the grassland is to be grazed or the forage crops to be harvested before a certain period has elapsed (this period, fixed by the Member States, may not be less than three weeks);
  • on fruit and vegetable crops during the growing season, with the exception of fruit trees;
  • on ground intended for the cultivation of fruit and vegetable crops which are normally in direct contact with the soil and normally eaten raw, for a period of ten months preceding the harvest and during the harvest itself.

Sludge and soil on which it is used must be sampled and analysed.

Member States must keep records registering:

  • the quantities of sludge produced and the quantities supplied for use in agriculture;
  • the composition and properties of the sludge;
  • the type of treatment carried out;
  • the names and addresses of the recipients of the sludge and the places where the sludge is to be used.

Where conditions so demand, Member States may take more stringent measures than those provided for in this Directive.

Five years after notification of this Directive, and every four years thereafter, Member States must produce a consolidated report on the use of sludge in agriculture, specifying the quantities used, the criteria followed and any difficulties encountered. They must forward the report to the Commission, which will publish the information contained in it.

In the light of that report the Commission will, if necessary, submit appropriate proposals for increased protection of the soil and the environment.

REFERENCES

Act Entry into force - Date of expiry Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Directive 86/278/EEC

18.6.1986

18.6.1989

OJ L 181 of 4.7.1986

Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Directive 91/692/EEC

23.12.1991

1.1.1993

OJ L 377 of 31.12.1991

Regulation (EC) No 807/2003

5.6.2003

-

OJ L 122 of 16.5.2003

Regulation (EC) No 219/2009

20.4.2009

OJ L 87 of 31.3.2009

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 86/278/EEC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

RELATED ACTS

Report from the Commission of 20 November 2009 on implementation of the community waste legislation Directive 2006/12/EC on waste, Directive 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste, Directive 75/439/EEC on waste oils, Directive 86/278/EEC on sewage sludge, Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste and Directive 2002/96/EC on waste electrical and electronic equipment for the period 2004-2006 [COM(2009) 633 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
Since the adoption of the Directive on sewage sludge more than 20 years ago, no implementation problems have been reported. However there are signals that the Directive may be too limited in scope and lack ambition. Several Member States have enacted and implemented stricter limit values for heavy metals and set requirements for other contaminants. The Commission impact assessment will evaluate whether more stringent measures should be put in place and look into a possibility of extending the scope of the Directive to other types of sludges and applications other than agriculture.

Report from the Commission of 19 July 2006 on implementation of the Community waste legislation: Directive 75/442/EEC, Directive 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste, Directive 75/439/EEC on waste oils, Directive 86/278/EEC on sewage sludge, Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste and Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste for the period 2001-2003 [COM(2006) 406 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
According to this report, several Member States have set concentration limits at levels below those in the Directive. In addition, average concentrations of heavy metals in sludge used in agriculture are significantly lower than those specified in the Directive. Most EU-15 Member States registered an increase in sludge generation. Seven Member States report using at least 50% of the sludge they generate in agriculture. The Commission considers that using sewage sludge as fertiliser on agricultural soils remains one of the best environmental options, provided it poses no threat to the environment or to animal and human health.

Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 19 May 2003 on the implementation of Community waste legislation, in particular Directive 75/442/EEC on waste, Directive 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste, Directive 75/439/EEC on waste oils, Directive 86/278/EEC on sewage sludge and Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, for the period 1998-2000 [COM(2003) 250 final Not published in the Official Journal].

Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 10 January 2000 on the implementation of Community waste legislation for the period 1995-1997 (Directives 75/442/EEC, 91/689/EEC, 75/439/EEC and 86/278/EEC) [COM(1999) 752 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission notes in this report that there were no major problems in the formal transposition of Directive 86/278 on sewage sludge into national law. The Directive has been successful in preventing crop contamination by pathogens caused by the use of sludge on agricultural soils. However, few Member States have very high sludge reuse rates. As the Commission foresees an increase of about 40 % of sludge production by 2005, it seems appropriate to completely revise the provisions of the Directive.

Commission Communication to the Council and the European Parliament of 27 February 1997 concerning the application of Directives 75/439/EEC, 75/442/EEC, 78/319/EEC and 86/278/EEC on waste management [COM(97) 23 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
As Directive 86/278/EEC was published on 17 June 1986, the Member States had to draw up their first report by 17 June 1991. Only six Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France and the United Kingdom) sent their 1991/1992 report. A second report covering the years 1991-1994 should have been submitted by 17 June 1995.
The Commission's analysis covers the period 1991-1994 on the basis of the reports submitted by five Member States (Belgium, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Portugal).
The report notes that some Member States have failed to adopt all the national measures needed to transpose this Directive. As a result, Belgium in particular was sentenced by the Court of Justice (judgment of 3 May 1994, Case C-260/93) for failing to transpose the Directive.
Following the adoption of Directive 91/692/EEC standardising and rationalising reports on the implementation of certain Directives relating to the environment, the Commission adopted a standard questionnaire for drawing up these reports, first used for the 1991-1994 report. The report outlines the state of play regarding national laws and the minimum limit values set by the five Member States which submitted their report. The Commission feels that, under the current circumstances, it is difficult to draw final conclusions as the reports of several Member States are missing and some of the reports submitted were incomplete. However, it is of the view that the Directive was, on the whole, well implemented as regards the permitted concentration of heavy metals in sludge for use in agriculture, as the level is in general lower than the limit values laid down in Annex I B to the Directive.

Last updated: 22.02.2010
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