Domestic source of phosphorus to sewage treatment works

Sean Comber, Michael Gardner, Karyn Georges, David J. Blackwood, Daniel J. Gilmour

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    78 Citations (Scopus)


    Phosphorus is an element essential for life. Concerns regarding long-term security of supply and issues related to eutrophication of surface waters once released into the aquatic environment have led governments to consider and apply measures for reducing the use and discharge of phosphorus. Examples of source control include legislation to reduce phosphorus use in domestic detergents. This research shows that other domestic sources of phosphorus also contribute significantly to the domestic load to sewer and that overall, domestic sources dominate loads to sewage treatment works. Estimates provided here show that although the natural diet contributes 40% of the domestic phosphorus load, other potentially preventable sources contribute significantly to the estimated 44,000 tonnes of phosphorus entering UK sewage treatment works each year. In the UK, food additives are estimated to contribute 29% of the domestic load; automatic dishwashing detergents contribute 9% and potentially increasing; domestic laundry 14%, including contributions from phosphonates, but decreasing; phosphorus dosing to reduce lead levels in tap water 6%; food waste disposed of down the drain 1%; and personal care products 1%. Although UK data is presented here, it is anticipated that similar impacts would be expected for other developed economies. Consideration of alternatives to all preventable sources of phosphorus from these sources would therefore offer potentially significant reductions in phosphorus loads to sewage treatment works and hence to the aquatic environment. Combining all source control measures and applying them to their maximum extent could potentially lead to the prevention of over 22,000 tonnes-P/year entering sewage treatment works.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1349-1358
    Number of pages10
    JournalEnvironmental Technology
    Issue number10
    Early online date14 Nov 2012
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Phosphorus
    • Source
    • Domestic
    • Sewage
    • Loads
    • Apportionment


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